Almirola, No. 43 team focused on next step
July 08, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Aric Almirola joked with his wife Sunday morning as the couple chatted via FaceTime, he still in Daytona Beach, Florida, while Janice, a petite blonde and mother of their two children, held down the fort back home in Mooresville, North Carolina.
"She said, 'Alright, I'll see you when you get done,' " Almirola, driver of the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Ford, said Monday during a brief stop at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
"I said, 'Yep, I'll probably smell like beer and I'll come home and probably have confetti on me.' I tease her all the time. I typically say 'Well, hopefully I'm late.' That's always what I tell her. 'I'll see you probably around this time but hopefully I'm later than that.'
"I was a lot later than I told her."
Almirola had good reason to be tardy. For the first time in 125 career starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Almirola was delayed by a Victory Lane celebration.
The 30-year-old scored his first victory Sunday in the rain-delayed, rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. It was the first victory for the famed No. 43 entry since John Andretti's victory at Martinsville in 1999.
The past 24 hours, he said, "have been crazy. And long.
"Go back further than that, probably go back 48 hours. Sitting around in the rain, bored out of my mind, wishing that we were racing, to realizing that it wasn't going to let up and we were going to have to race on Sunday. I had promised my wife and kids that we were going to go out on the boat Sunday and have a good family day and that didn't happen because we were going to race. It was just a long, long 48 hours.
"To finally get the race in -- you know at the beginning of the race they stopped us because it rained. We ran like eight laps and stopped. 'Here it comes again.' Then they finally get the track dry and we go back racing. Then the big wrecks and the cautions and red flags, you name it."
"To get through all of that and to run as competitive of a race as we ran -- you know, after the first big wreck, we ran in the top six or seven the rest of the race. I'm so proud of everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports. The emotions have been so high; such a sense of gratification, accomplishment, you name it. All the words to describe everything; Sunday was just really special."
Almirola, now 21st in points, became the first first-time winner since the 2011 season, when five new faces showed up in Victory Lane. Included in that group was Marcos Ambrose, his teammate at RPM.
The win provided a huge boost of confidence for the organization, but Almirola knows the group has to take advantage of its newfound opportunity. With a spot in the 16-driver Chase field all but secured, he said he knows what his team needs to do, as well as what it can't afford to let happen.
"Our focus is really going to be to build our momentum so that we peak going into the Chase and those first few weeks and kind of ride that wave," he said. "What we can't do in the three or four weeks leading into the Chase is run 25th. We can't do that. We have to be competitive, we have to be running up front and we have to peak leading into that Chase."
His team's chances to compete for the championship, he said, are real.
"We have a lot of work to do, we're aware of that," he said. "We've got to be more competitive consistently. But I can tell you that everybody at the shop today when I was there is already talking about it. They're already talking about what we can do, where we can test, what parts we can build, what setups we can try. That's the focus of our race team.
"We've enjoyed the win, we partied it up pretty good last night and everybody showed up for work today ready and focused on the next eight weeks building up to the Chase."
The next stop for the series comes Sunday when New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosts the Camping World RV Sales 301. Almirola finished fifth in the event last year for his first top-five finish at the 1.058-mile track.