Sprint Cup team preview: Richard Petty Motorsports
January 26, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
Almirola-Ambrose combo returns, aims to rejuvenate RPM
-- Did not win a race in 2013 for the first time in three seasons, after reaching Victory Lane with Marcos Ambrose on the Watkins Glen road course in each of the past two years. Aric Almirola finished a career-best 18th in final points, while Ambrose's 22nd-place result was his lowest in three years with the organization.
-- Inked a three-year deal with sponsor Smithfield Foods to serve as primary sponsor of Almirola's No. 43 car, which has allowed RPM to start up a research and development team. The organization still receives chassis from Roush Fenway, and engines from Roush Yates.
-- Named Trent Owens crew chief of Almirola's No. 43 team for 2014. Owens had a strong run in the Nationwide Series with Kyle Larson in 2013. Almirola's former crew chief Todd Parrott, was released after a substance abuse violation, although NASCAR has since cleared him to return. Drew Blickensderfer is back as crew chief for the No. 9 team.
2014 Driver Lineup
Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford; Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford
Almirola showed some signs of promise in 2013, most notably in a spring stretch that had him eighth in points entering the Southern 500 at Darlington. He recorded four straight top-five finishes, the first for the No. 43 car since Bobby Hamilton did it in 1996. The vehicle continues to look for its first victory since John Andretti won in 1999 at Martinsville.
Almirola faltered down the stretch in 2013, posting just one top-10 finish in his final 17 starts, a slump that was exacerbated by Parrott's departure in the fall. Ambrose struggled all season, failing to record a single top-five finish for the first time since moving to NASCAR from V8 Supercars in his native Australia. The best finish by either RPM driver was Almirola's fifth-place result in July at New Hampshire.
Almirola was signed to a three-year extension as part of the Smithfield deal, the first time he's had more than a one-year contract at RPM. Ambrose continues to be year-by-year with the organization.
The No. 43 car is in better financial shape than it's been in years, and RPM officials are hopeful money from the Smithfield sponsorship will allow them greater latitude in improving vehicles across the board after they get the chassis from Roush. That's especially key in light of last season, when Ford's flagship Roush team struggled as an organization, and RPM was caught up in the turbulent wake.
Owens has shown a knack for working with all kinds of different drivers during his Nationwide career, and the son of Richard Petty's late brother-in-law now joins the family team. If improvement materializes, it's not outlandish to think Almirola can snap the 43 car's long winless streak and emerge as an outside Chase contender, or that Ambrose can sweep the road courses to vie for a Wild Card. That's likely a best-case scenario for an organization positioning itself to take the next step.