Richard Petty Motorsports driver sits 10th in points after steady start
Many New Year's resolutions die on the vine, sometimes before winter ever loses its grip on the calendar. But here it is March, nearly the turn of spring, and Aric Almirola is still chasing his resolution, an ever-moving target.
"At the beginning of the year, we sat down and made a list of goals," said Almirola, in his second full season with Richard Petty Motorsports, "and that is No. 1 on our list of goals is to put that 43 car back in Victory Lane."
Three starts into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, Almirola has inched toward that end, stringing together finishes of 13th, 15th and 16th to open the season. It's nothing splashy, but the consistency has placed him 10th in the early standings.
Pair that with the strong finishing kick he had last season and Almirola has reason to believe that he's ever closer to a breakthrough win at NASCAR's highest level.
"Chemistry is a big deal and confidence is a big deal, and right now, I feel like we've got both of those things going," Almirola said Tuesday during the weekly NASCAR teleconference. "We show up to the race track and we expect to run in the top 10. And you look at the race teams that compete and that consistently finish in the top 10, the top 15, eventually they win races, and we think the same thing.
“We feel like if we continue to put ourselves in position to run in the top 10 and be contenders, then that one day will come where things go our way and we've got a fast car and we get track position at the end of the race and we go out and win a race. That's reallywhat we're focused on."
Part of the chemistry stems from a growing bond with crew chief Todd Parrott, who took over Petty's famed No. 43 for the final 10 races last season as the team used its absence from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship to focus on a new direction for 2013. That change sparked Almirola's efforts in the fall, pushing him to contend for the win at Kansas before crashing and launching him to a remarkable fourth-place run at Martinsville.
Having all those pieces remain in place over the winter break is what had Almirola, who turns 29 on Thursday,eager to keep the team's fire lit.
"We have just really clicked … ," Almirola said. "We have fast race cars every week, and right from the very get-go, (Parrott has) understood me and I've understood him, and we just know how to get our cars where we want them throughout the weekend for the race. So I've been real encouraged, and I was really excited this wholeoffseason to get going this year because I knew what we were capable of after the last 10 races of last year."
While Almirola has done his best to keep the resolution, he's also intent on managing expectations as the scrappy Petty team tries to get the best of its better-heeled powerhouse rivals. The team's state of mind has been to do more with less; Almirola has adopted the mindset of keeping his head in the game and minimizing errors.
It's added up so far -- the Almirola/RPM pairing sits 13 positions higher in the Sprint Cup standings after three races this season compared to a year ago.
"The big thing for me was the first few weeks of this year to not make any major mistakes," Almirola said. "I wanted to go out and have solid days, don't get caught speeding on pit road, keep our track position all day and just race smart, and put ourselves in position to where here in the next few weeks, we can go compete and be a legitimate threat for trying to make the Chase.
"Right now, I know we are only three weeks into it, but myself and everybody on our race team feels like that's a possibility."
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