When Aric Almirola crossed the line in third place in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway this past weekend, it marked his first top five since July of 2013. Almirola scored one top-five all season last year, coming at New Hampshire with a fifth place finish. Now four races into the season, Almirola has matched that statistic – and he didn’t just fall into that position.
Almirola showed speed all night long behind the wheel of his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, running inside the top 10 all night long. The night didn’t start off that well as a result of a poor qualifying effort, but he slowly made his way to the front as the night went on.
“It seemed like a lot of people were struggling for drive off, and my car was really good on drive offs, and when it cooled down it seemed like not as many people were struggling,” Almirola commented. “They could hold on longer in the run. That was kind of our strong suit. It seemed like our car got better and better as the run went on.”
At one point, it looked as if Almirola could possibly close the gap between himself and Edwards and score the win.
“It’s frustrating because I had one shot to race Carl for the lead, and these races are so hard to win, obviously, and it was a great day for us,” he commented. “I’m not disappointed at all with third, but when you see it and you can taste it and it’s that close, you wonder what could have went different. If our car would have taken off a little bit better, things might have went different. But all in all it was a great day.”
The finish at Bristol marked hte pay off of hard-work by Almirola and his new crew chief this season Trent Owens. RPM hired Owens to join their team for 2014 following Owen’s success last year in the Nationwide Series with Turner-Scott Motorsports.
“We’ve had good cars. We’ve had good runs. Last week (at Las Vegas) was an exception,” he commented. “But this is kind of how we expect to run. We thought when we brought Trent over that he would come with some new ideas, and our cars, everybody at Roush Fenway has been working really hard and everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports has been working really hard together to get our cars better, and I feel like we have some really good cars right now. I think it shows, we had four of the top 5 cars tonight. Everybody has been working really hard, and that hard work pays off. I know everybody works hard, but we were not very happy with how our season went last year and we’ve made a lot of changes, and all of those changes have seemed to be positive.”
Richard Petty Motorsports hasn’t won a race since 2012 with Marcos Ambrose at Walkins Glen. With a new crew chief atop the pit box and a strong relationship with Roush Fenway Racing, RPM could return to not only victory lane this year, but also be part of the Chase for the Championship.