News & Media

The King's choice: Almirola to drive Petty's 43

January 05, 2012, Joe Menzer,

Three years wiser, Almirola ready for best opportunity yet with Petty, 43 car

Aric Almirola has stood on the precipice of what appeared to be a great opportunity in Sprint Cup racing previously in his career.

But he admitted Wednesday that he's never felt better about one after signing to drive the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports in the upcoming 2012 season. The last time Almirola thought he was about to break into Cup racing was prior to the 2007 season when he was supposed to split a ride with Mark Martin for Ginn Racing.

"I'm a way better race car driver now than I was three years ago. I feel like I'll be able to make the most of this opportunity."


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Best Rank*--42

That went away in a hurry, and so did Ginn Racing -- which eventually merged with Dale Earnhardt Inc., which in turn merged with yet another operation to become Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

Almirola, considered an up-and-coming potential Cup star prior to 2007, was left on the outside looking in and did the only thing he thought he could do to work his way back. He started taking whatever rides he could get and eventually went back to the Camping World Truck Series, where in 2010 he won twice and finished second in the points. That led to an opportunity last year to run a full-time Nationwide Series schedule with JR Motorsports, where he drove the No. 88 Chevrolet to a fourth-place finish in points.

By going backward in his career, Almirola, still young at 27 years of age, said he's now more prepared than ever to take the leap to the Cup Series -- this time in a full-time ride and behind the wheel in the car that sports arguably the most famous number in NASCAR.

"This is a great opportunity for me. I felt like a few years ago when I had the chance to go Cup racing, it wasn't at this level," Almirola said. "There were a lot of moving parts still going on, and it didn't end up working out. ... I think taking all of that knowledge that I've gained over the last two or three years has done nothing but make me a better race car driver.

"To have the opportunity to get into the type of equipment I'm getting into now, I'm really excited about it. I think I'm a way better race car driver now than I was three years ago. I feel like I'll be able to make the most of this opportunity."

Brian Moffitt, CEO of Richard Petty Motorsports, said that Richard Petty himself was among those who kept an eye on how hard Almirola kept working after the career setback he suffered in 2007. Prior to becoming a car owner, Petty guided the No. 43 to a record number of race wins in a Hall of Fame career as a driver.

"We saw a lot of potential in Aric and watched him closely throughout his time at JR Motorsports," Moffitt said. "Richard always said if we ever had the opportunity, that was somebody he would like to see in the 43."

Petty, Moffitt and others at RPM saw potential in Almirola toward the end of the 2010 season when they tabbed him to drive five Cup races in the No. 9 car they fielded that now is being driven by Marcos Ambrose.

"We are thrilled to welcome Aric Almirola into the RPM family," said Petty, who co-owns RPM with an investment group headed by Andrew Murstein. "We feel extremely fortunate to have had a number of very talented drivers interested in joining our organization, but ultimately we felt Aric would be the best fit for the team and for our current and potential partners.

"We have had the chance to watch his progress for the past several years and we had success with him in the past. We are really confident in his potential as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. We think Aric has all the makings to be the next bright star in our sport."

Almirola's car is expected to be at least partially sponsored by Smithfield's, a meat company based in Smithfield, N.C. The primary sponsor for the car last season, Best Buy, has moved on to another team.

"As far as sponsorship, we will be making announcements in the coming weeks. We're poised for a two-car operation, as Richard has mentioned earlier," Moffitt said. "We do have some open inventory on the car, but we will be announcing some new partners within the coming weeks."

Almirola said he has never been more excited about an opportunity in NASCAR. He will be paired with veteran crew chief Greg Erwin and replaces A.J. Allmendinger, the driver who guided the No. 43 Ford to a respectable 15th-place finish in both the drivers' and owners' point standings last year. Allmendinger left RPM recently to join Penske Racing as driver of the No. 22 Dodge for that organization.

"I had the privilege last year of sitting on the couch at home and watching all the [Cup] races, and I saw how competitive their race cars were on a weekly basis," Almirola said. "That was a big factor in my decision to come over here to Richard Petty Motorsports."