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Almirola scores another fine finish at Dover

June 04, 2012, Mark Aumann,

DOVER, Del. -- Driver of No. 43 has improved finishing position in three consecutive races

There was a point during Sunday's FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway where Aric Almirola began thinking about Victory Lane.

Except for one small detail: He hadn't ever driven a Cup car at Dover, let alone a winning one.

"Every week, we've been seeing small positive things ... If we can just keep making small steps, it's just about progress."


When you finish sixth on one of the toughest tracks on the circuit -- a place deserving of the nickname "Monster Mile" -- you can excuse Almirola's enthusiasm.

"At one time, I really thought we had a good shot at winning the race," he said. "[But] I don't really know what a race-winning car feels like here."

Almirola not only stayed out of trouble in his first race at Dover, but also ran wheel to wheel with most of the stars for much of the day.

That's a pretty impressive feat, particularly for a driver who didn't really have a handle on what adjustments the car needed as the track rubbered in. In three previous Nationwide Series races at Dover, Almirola's best finish was a ninth.

That's where veteran crew chief Mike Ford came in handy.

"I was kind of searching around at the beginning of the race, not really sure what I needed," Almirola said. "And Mike made some great adjustments on pit road and really woke the car up. We kind of worked around that."

Almirola started 12th and slipped back as far as 19th in the first quarter of the race. But, with Ford's help, the No. 43 Ford began a steady march through the field -- eventually cracking the top 10 just before the midway point.

The toughest thing for Almirola was keeping the car from sliding up the track on worn tires. Again, he relied on Ford's expertise.

"We had runs where we were pretty good, and then we had runs where we were just really up on top of the track," Almirola said. "It was really hard to judge what you needed from stop to stop. But overall, it was a great day. Mike's experience on pit road, with adjusting the car and making changes, was a big help."

With a car capable of turning lap times equal to those of the leaders, Almirola's confidence level soared. And that's been a continuing storyline as the season's gone along.

If anything, Almirola has proven himself to be more than capable on the mile ovals. At Phoenix, he finished 12th. At Martinsville, he led three laps and wound up eighth. And he improved on that by two positions on Sunday.

Almirola had a tough stretch of races, beginning with Texas. But ever since finishing 12th at Talladega, the team has begun to show signs of improvement. And that's all you can ask for from a driver still learning his way around the circuit.

"Every week, we've been seeing small positive things," Almirola said. "At Charlotte, we didn't finish the way we wanted to, but we qualified on the pole and had decent runs throughout the race. If we can just keep making small steps, it's just about progress."