Ambrose, Almirola provide boost for Petty team
March 31, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
RPM races with heavy hearts, lands top-five, top-10 at Martinsville
A quick survey of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage area showed that seemingly all 43 cars in the STP 500 carried a decal in tribute to Lynda Petty, the matriarch of stock-car racing's winningest family who passed away last Tuesday at her N.C. home.
Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, Richard Petty Motorsports drivers carried the day with a strong showing at one of the tracks that The King once ruled.
Marcos Ambrose spent time leading the field and drove the No. 9 Ford home with a fifth-place finish, just ahead of RPM teammate Aric Almirola in eighth in the team's signature No. 43. While the Australian native savored his career-best finish on the .526-mile track, his thoughts were clearly with the family back in Level Cross, N.C.
"We've had a really tough week. We lost Miss Lynda. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Petty family right now," Ambrose said. "We really wanted to win for them bad out there, but we’ll take a top-five. We're really proud of our efforts."
Ambrose led 22 laps Sunday as the 500-lap race neared its midpoint, slipping back as Matt Kenseth and eventual runner-up Jimmie Johnson freight-trained by, but Ambrose never strayed far from the top 10 the remainder of the day. Both RPM drivers benefited from quick service during the final round of pit stops, with Ambrose moving up from ninth to seventh in the exchange and Almirola jumping from seventh to fourth.
While Ambrose moved up two more spots by the time the checkered flag waved, Almirola faded slightly as he dealt with a finicky handling car. Still, he took solace in the team's direction.
"We went back and forth on our adjustments and never really got it exactly where we needed it, but I'm really proud of all the guys at Richard Petty Motorsports," Almirola said. "Marcos had a really good run as well, so we're doing things right. If we keep running like this, we'll get to Victory Lane."
Ambrose's improvement this season may be the most striking -- after going all 36 races in 2013 without a top-five finish, he already has two top-fives in just six events this year. Both have come at short tracks, an area where RPM has excelled early on in 2014.
At Bristol Motor Speedway on March 16, Almirola finished third and Ambrose fifth. While the team's results at other types of speedways haven't matched its short-track progress, Ambrose said he's seen gains in performance that are bound to pay off soon.
"We spent a lot of money and a lot of effort in getting Richard Petty Motorsports back on the map and I think you're seeing the results," Ambrose said. "We've been fast for about four weeks in a row and we're just starting to hit our stride. We're gonna win one of these soon and lock ourselves in the Chase and feel good about our chances."