After things looked bleak to start Sunday’s 500-lap event at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, the No. 43 Gwaltney Ford team and driver Aric Almirola dug deep and came away with a fourth-place finish. The result is their best finish this season and ties Almirola’s career best in the Sprint Cup Series.
When the green flag flew to start the “Chase” race, Almirola moved up to ninth, but was then unable to hold his position. By Lap 35, he had fallen back to 14th and was silent on the radio until the first caution waved on Lap 46. Almirola came on the radio and told crew chief Todd Parrott that his car was not handling well. He asked for major changes and to “take a big swing” at the chassis. Over the course of the race, Parrott and the No. 43 crew did just that.
The race featured 10 more caution periods, and through that time, Parrott called Almirola in each time for changes to make the car handle better. Chassis changes included spring, track bar, shock adjustments and more.
As the team made the changes, Almirola had to race hard to stay on the lead lap. By Lap 100, he had fallen back to 26th on the track. Battling his car, Almirola had no better luck in the next 100 laps. Although he was unable to crack back into the top-20, he did manage to stay on the lead lap. The race to the 300-lap mark proved critical for the team’s eventual finish.
With the team making the car better, Almirola kept finding a way to pick off cars and advance on the leader board. He moved into the top-20, but did lose one lap to the leaders. As the race settled in for a long run, teams had to come down pit road for fuel. Almirola was able to stretch his fuel and raced up to third before pitting under green.
Almirola returned to the track in 19th, one lap down. But, on Lap 393 the caution came out allowing the No. 43 Gwaltney Ford team to take the “wave around” to get back on the lead lap. This proved to be a major turning point for the team. Once racing with the leaders, Almirola asked for no more changes to the car, saying it was the best it had been all day. This also allowed Parrott to use normal pit strategy to help Almirola gain track position.
In the final 100 laps, Almirola just raced past his competition and moved up to 14th. During a late-race caution, Almirola came down pit road and Parrot called for a two-tire stop. With that decision proving to be a great call, Almirola restarted seventh and raced to fourth at the end of day.
The finish is the best for Richard Petty Motorsports at Martinsville Speedway. Almirola stays 21st in points heading into Texas.
Comments from Almirola after Martinsville: “That was a good run for us. Todd Parrott made a gutsy call there. We were horrible at the beginning of this race and I mean horrible. I don’t know how we didn’t go several laps down, but we fought hard all day. We fought for every position. We made all kinds of adjustments on this Ford Fusion all day and Todd Parrott made a great call there to take two tires at the end to get us some track position and it took off. I was really surprised at how fast it went on two tires, so I’m proud of everybody on this Gwaltney Ford Fusion. They worked really hard and we deserved this one.”