Tag Archives: Aric Almirola

The King talks progress, race team, and NASCAR’s future

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 03:  NASCAR Hall of Famer and team owner Richard Petty looks on during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
DAYTONA BEACH, FL – JULY 03: NASCAR Hall of Famer and team owner Richard Petty looks on during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Although the sun set on Richard Petty’s racing career 23 years ago, he is still The King.

It is a nickname he carries with pride. His thoughts hold weight in not only NASCAR but the entire racing community as well—and for good reason. In an ever-changing sport, the seven-time champion provides a steady voice flanked with wisdom.

“[NASCAR] wants to keep growing and keep the fans interested,” Petty told Up Top The Pit Box regarding the sport’s future. “We want to have them come to the races and watch it on TV. There is so much going on in the world for people to do and to watch. The younger generation is growing up on the X Games and other extreme sports. We want to keep their attention and have them watch us, too.”

The Hall of Fame driver competed during a vastly different era of racing, acquiring 200 overall wins, 712 top-10 finishes, and 123 poles. It’s so different that comparisons to modern day action fall mute.

Petty said, “You just can’t compare [the two eras of racing]. Today, there is so much technology and stuff like that. The cars are so different. We were racing strictly stock cars, and now we have specifically prepared race cars.”

“Everything is just different, but so is the world, too. Things just progress.”

Progress is a crucial part of sports, and it’s something the champion focused on during his career. His thought process was simple—be better than the time before.

“[I wanted] to be better each lap. If the guy in front of me was going faster, I wanted to be faster than him the next lap. And that’s really how I judged myself, how to be better than yesterday.”

When asked if any missed opportunities haunted him, Petty answered, “I’ve won races and come home and couldn’t sleep because I was thinking of something that didn’t go right or as we hoped and planned. There were other races where I finished fifth or sixth and slept like a baby…I knew I got the best out of the car that day and did the best I possibly could.”

The legend wants to instill that mindset into his team, Richard Petty Motorsports. The two-car operation is working to make The Chase, NASCAR’s playoff system that consists of ten races. Driver Aric Almirola made the cut after winning last year’s July event at Daytona International Speedway. Almirola is currently 15th in the point standings, but the team’s owner thinks a win is in the cards.

“I think Aric can win this year. [The No. 43 team] is more consistent this year, and we’re right near The Chase. We just need to give him good cars because he’s proved to be capable of running up front.”

RPM’s other driver, Sam Hornish Jr., is 24th in the rankings, searching for the winning spark. “[The No. 9 team] is getting their chemistry. We’ve made a crew chief change, and we just need to keep going. Sam did a great job at Sonoma [Raceway], and he was good [in the Daytona 500 earlier this season].”

While Almirola and Hornish compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Petty fields driver Dakoda Armstrong in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. When asked about moving Armstrong up anytime soon, the owner assured, “Dakoda does a good job for us in the XFINITY Series. Right now, we’re concentrating on being a two-car Cup team.”

The former championship-winning driver and current team owner is a trademark in the world of racing, and the sport is in his blood.

“When NASCAR started, my daddy [driver Lee Petty] was at the first race. I was going to races after that and have been ever since.”

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m just too old to start something new now.”

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Elimination format impresses at Dover, yet Wonder Boy shines

(Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
(Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)

As fans of Chase Nations sat on the edges of their seats, Dover International Speedway made the Elimination race one to remember.

The thrill came from The Bubble Battle and a few twists. It was apparent that there would be many green flag runs, yet that didn’t deter drivers. Strapping in, everyone had a goal and an animalistic focus of survival.

Kevin Harvick started from the pole and dominated much of the race. A brave Brad Keselowski hunted the No. 4 without prevail. When reports of an issue arose from the Stewart-Haas Racing camp, many weren’t surprised; the story of Harvick’s season includes domination and downfall. The team spiraled even more out of control when his left front tire blew. The inner valve stem was broken. Though he finished in the top-15, it wasn’t what he wanted.

Keselowski stepped up to bat. Team Penske’s muscle was too strong to ignore. The organization is nearly perfect and are serious championship contenders. However, as great as the No. 2’s performance was, he was overpowered by the No. 24.

Yes, Jeff Gordon ran him down and stole the lead. Anyone who’s made old man jokes about this guy needs to apologize. The Drive for Five is still alive, especially after he claimed his fourth win of 2014 Sunday afternoon. He visited the Monster Mile’s victory lane for the first time since 2001, a sure sign that the Rainbow Warrior is stirring in his soul (Can we make ‘#WonderBoyLivesOn’ a hashtag this season?).

Alas, the race had to be solemn for some. This was a cut-off race, one where four drivers were removed from championship contention. Folks were eager to see how the new addition to The Chase format would unfold. Honestly, it changed the complexion of Dover; it made it a can’t-miss event, a complete one-eighty from its usual stance. The Bubble Battle kept eyes and calculators busy the entire afternoon.

Flip-flopping highlighted the newest improvement. First Kasey Kahne was in, then it was Kurt Busch, and that tug-of-war match lasted until the checkered flag flew. Kahne ended up advancing, despite finishing 21st. Those eliminated are Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle, and Aric Almirola. One thing’s for sure: if Kahne wants to be a serious Contender, he has to stop getting by with the bare minimum. That entire team –especially the pit crew—needs to get their heads in the game. If not, they don’t have a fighting chance.

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series dives into the Contender round, these next two races –which take place at Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway—are critical. Why? Because the next cut-off race is at Talladega Superspeedway.

No pressure, guys.

 

Chase Grid following Dover

  1. Brad Keselowski
  2. Joey Logano
  3. Kevin Harvick
  4. Jimmie Johnson
  5. Jeff Gordon
  6. Kyle Busch
  7. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
  8. Matt Kenseth
  9. Ryan Newman
  10. Carl Edwards
  11. Denny Hamlin
  12. Kasey Kahne

Fast Facts: Bojangles’ Southern 500

Here is a quick rundown of information to Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500:

WHAT? The 2014 Bojangles’ Southern 500 is the 65th running of the event. It is considered one of the crown jewel races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. The race is scheduled to run 367 laps, which translates to 501.3 miles.

WHERE? The race is taking place at Darlington Raceway, which is located in Florence, South Carolina. The track, which is around 1.36 miles in length, is known for its egg-like shape and turns, which all have different degrees of banking. Nicknames for the track include The Lady in Black and references to it being Too Tough to Tame.

WHEN? TV time for the event begins at 6:30 ET on FOX. You can also catch a radio broadcast on MRN.

WHO? The polesitter for the race is Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet for Stewart Haas Racing. In NASCAR’s knockout qualifying format, he posted a time of 26.802 seconds, going at a speed of 183.479 MPH. It is his seventh pole in 474 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. Harvick has one win so far in 2014, cruising to Victory Lane at Phoenix International Raceway.

NOTABLES? -Joey Logano qualified second for the event, his seventh top-10 start of 2014. He remains the only driver to advance to the final round of knockout qualifying. He won last week’s rain delayed Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
-Aric Almirola posted the fastest lap of the qualifying session in round two, going 184.145 MPH. He ended up third in the final round. His Richard Petty Motorsports teammate, Marcos Ambrose, will start fourth.
-For the first time since the beginning of the season, there is no threat of rain to derail the weekend.

Bizarre Bristol proves to be no match for Edwards and Fennig

Mother Nature is obviously a NASCAR hater (Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images).
Mother Nature is obviously a NASCAR hater (Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images).

Bristol Motor Speedway is a stop everyone looks forward to, whether it’s the night race or not. Sunday was circled on calendars across NASCAR nation as the one to watch.

It was also known as the one that may not happen. The days leading up to the race were filled with depressing forecasts. Many displayed ‘100%’ next to rainy cloud icons. It turned out to impact attendance greatly; the stand were bare once we went racing after the first rain delay.

Yes, “the first” rain delay. Just wait.

The field has made it 129 laps, with a special competition caution at lap 50, when the rain appeared again. When it rains, it pours, and this time was no exception.

Can we all collectively say, “UGH!” right now? Okay, good.

It was a long, tedious rain delay, one filled with Fox filler material and awkward interviews. When the allotted TV time ended at 6 p.m. ET, it was announced that the race would be shown on Fox Sports 1 once it resumed. Fox Sports plans on airing some NASCAR events on FS1 next season, so it was a preview of sorts.

Fans were outraged, many not getting the channel. The upset was understandable, but that’s something to discuss with the network provider. Nothing is more annoying than seeing people tweet their frustration to the official Fox Twitter account. The person behind the account is a paid PR person; they can’t do anything about executive decisions such as moving the broadcast to a different channel. NASCAR fans, your passion is admirable, but it needs to be toned down for the sake of others.

The race finally resumed around 7 p.m. ET, giving us a rare Spring night race at The Last Great Coliseum. Under the lights? Drivers worried about rain showers popping up? This was bound to be interesting.

In the end, ‘interesting’ was a humongous understatement. The racing was better than ever, a breath of fresh air. Passing, lead changes, three-wide; it was almost too much to handle.

Some insane moments from the event included Timmy Hill plowing into Matt Kenseth’s back end while under caution. That somehow helped Kenseth get back into contention until tire issues plagued his comeback.

Near the end of the race, Kevin Harvick suffered from a tire rub. He ended up in the wall, yet drove his car back to the garage, where it proceeded to catch on fire.

Even before the rain delay, something was off; Alex Bowman’s battery fell onto the track, ruining the rookie’s day. How does that happen?

Speaking of rookies, one showed up, along with a few younger drivers. Kyle Larson was competitive all night, securing a 10th-place finish. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Aric Almirola finished in the top three, duking it out late in the race.

If you want to talk about surprises, though, look at fourth place, and you’ll find Tony Stewart. Smoke has risen and found his Happy Place, which is a good thing considering the rest of Stewart-Haas Racing was stricken with problems. (Also, every time you ask him how his leg feels, Taylor Swift writes another song. Don’t bring it up again.)

The winner, you may ask? Carl Edwards, who pulled off a top-five finish last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, kept the momentum going with help from crew chief Jimmy Fennig. The No. 99 team decided to stay out through two cycles of pit stops, which sounded like a questionable thing to do. It turned out to be a stroke of brilliance.

Edwards was putting on a clinic, and it was three to go when the caution lights around the racetrack flicked on. When people asked NASCAR what the caution was for, all they received in return were shrugs. NASCAR later explained that a flag person leaned on a switch and turned the lights on. The flagman then reacted. Oops.

As they rode around, preparing for a green-white-checkered, the clouds opened up yet again. Rain pelted the track, and the race was called. The abrupt ending couldn’t overshadow the amazing racing, though.

Point Standings after the Food City 500

1. Brad Keselowski (–)
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-10)
3. Carl Edwards (-11)
4. Jeff Gordon (-12)
5. Jimmie Johnson (-20)
6. Joey Logano (-22)
7. Denny Hamlin (-23)
8. Matt Kenseth (-25)
9. Ryan Newman (-38)
10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-41)
11. Kasey Kahne (-42)
12. Greg Biffle (-45)
13. Austin Dillon (-46)
14. Kyle Busch (-52)
15. Marcos Ambrose (-55)
16. Jamie McMurray (-63)

FAN REACTION: As mentioned before, fans were less than thrilled that Fox Sports 1 took over race duties. As mentioned before, cut them some slack; we should be thankful they stuck with the rain delay as long as they did.

However, all of NASCAR nation can agree on one thing: Bristol was bizarre, having a 2012 Daytona 500 feel.

Under the lights? Drivers worried about rain showers popping up? Random cautions due to electronic malfunctions?

For the most part, it was a successful day, and Carl Edwards was a successful racecar driver.

#QforK: Stock Car Therapy

Bang, bang, bang.

Hear that? It’s the sound of me hitting my head against a brick wall.

Though this is NASCAR’s off-season, I haven’t slowed down. School work has picked up, time’s flying by, and life is barreling at me going about 200 mph. The only thing that has became a crawl is my Twitter feed. The statuses that do come through are irritable rants, for which I apologize.

I’m stressed. Plain and simple. The future is arriving six months early, and I’ve been stuffing dirty laundry into dark corners and speed-dusting my furniture. This includes ACT practice (I take the actual test this upcoming Friday) and looking at colleges.

NASCAR is needed. I never realized until recently how much it held me together. It gave me something to scream at. Stock Car Therapy, if you will. Doesn’t that sound like an unique venting session with high-speed results:

“You’re quite stressed. I suggest you take two weeks off work, take a nice bubble bath twice a week, and go fill your lungs with dirt at Eldora this summer.”

“You can’t get your coworkers loose and put them into the water-cooler, Jim. Go sit in the company hauler.”

“All these speeding tickets are going to make your ‘crew chief’ mad. You’ll be sleeping on the couch for about a week.”

Anyway, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Hopefully answering your questions will make those feelings go away for a bit.

Do you thing EGR will show a huge performance improvement now that they have HMS engines this season? -@LiamRedford

When the news of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing switching to Hendrick motors came out, I was pleasantly shocked. Some brand-named equipment will be under their hoods . . . But not THAT high quality.

What everyone needs to understand is that there is a food chain. At the pointed top is the four Hendrick cars. They get the prime selection. Next is Stewart-Haas Racing, who receives sloppy seconds. At the bottom is now Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. The quality dwindles as it goes down the food chain.

I’m afraid of overproduction occurring. If all these teams want Hendrick engines, the quality of said engines will disappear. More mechanical failures. Just what all three teams need, right?

All in all, it will help EGR for a little while, but, in the long run, the success will overheat and blow -just like the Hendrick engines will end up doing.

Is there a surprise candidate for The Chase this year? Who do you think that driver is? -@da_folz15

I’ve been working on my 2013 Chase lineup for a few weeks now, and one person I’m certain will make a shocking appearance is Aric Almirola. I just have this feeling about him. Last year, he made so much progress, and I think it will all come to a head this year. His top ten runs will become more common, and he’ll learn to handle that special pressure much more effectively.

Another person that may make a long-overdue presence will be Jeff Burton. He knows he’s on the hot seat, and, by the way he’s been talking, 2013 is Operation: Getcha Some Wins. The Mayor will make a run for The Chase, but I’m still uncertain if he’ll make it.

How much do you think the Gen 6 cars will change racing? -@Lovinbayne21

Two words: better racing.

Simple as that, folks. Get ready.

Children in racing: in the past, they’ve seemed to decline the father’s performance somewhat. Will it happen to Denny [Hamlin]? -MissChris52_11

Before we go any further, I want to take a moment to lament that fact that Ms. Taylor James Hamlin is the cutest thing I‘ve ever seen in my entire life:

Via Denny Hamlin's Twitter
Via Denny Hamlin’s Twitter

This is where we interject the collective AWHHHHHHH.

However, with a new bundle of joy comes a heavy burden if you’re a racecar driver.

We’ve seen it happen to most fathers in racing, excluding the Superman that is Jimmie Johnson, but I don’t see Denny faltering. Why? Because he’s been through so much already, that this should be a piece of cake. He’s come so close to the championship and lost it a handful of times.

This year, he’ll make a great run at becoming the 2013 champion, but he won’t win it all.

Hey, I never said he would fly to the top, did I?

For my full prediction of the 2013 Chase field, you’ll have to wait until later this week. Don’t die from anticipation!

#QforK: Happiness and the 2013 Season

I feel that, in whatever you do, you must be happy.

Many others preach this philosophy. Yet, how many actually walk the walk after they’ve talked the talk? Very few, I’ve figured.

I’m content in saying I am in that minority. Writing makes me happy, and so I shall write. NASCAR is my passion, so that’s my subject matter.

When things get difficult or strained, I try to look at the good. What I end up looking at is our champion Brad Keselowski.

Yes, that cocky, opinionated, heavily-intoxicated driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford. He is actually the perfect role model, against popular belief. Case in point, that press conference at Loudon after his then-teammate AJ Allmendinger was busted for that fateful drug test.

Out of the huge rant he produced, a single quote stuck out.

“You should just man up and drive the damn race car.”

I look at that statement by itself, and a light goes off. Shut up and drive.

Why? It makes you happy.

The surrounding world may be black and white, but that shouldn’t stop you from being the splash of color it needs.

Brad Keselowski helped me realize that being yourself is the best thing. He doesn’t believe in playing the media game. The façade you see is pure and genuine. It makes him, and everyone else, glad when he can speak his mind.

So, with this epiphany in mind, 2013 will be my year of bravery, no regrets, and more sarcasm than ever. Because feeling good about myself and making people laugh makes me smile.

Without further ado, here’s the first edition of #QforK of the new year!

With drivers such as Kilgerman, Pastrana, Smith, and Vickers moving to Nationwide, who will be the most successful? -@Kese_Penske_2

As Parker Kligerman goes to run for Kyle Busch Motorsports, and Travis Pastrana straps in the #60 full-time for Roush, it’s looking like the Nationwide series is going to be even more stacked with talent. Regan Smith already showed some muscle with his win at Homestead, and Brian Vickers is a proven talent in the Cup series.

In my mind, Vickers will be unstoppable, especially with the alliance he has over at Michael Waltrip Racing. He’s a victim of slim pickings on the Cup side of things, but that won’t stop him from making the best out of this next opportunity at Joe Gibbs Racing.

With the change of manufactures, do you think this will help or hinder Brad Keselowski’s 2013 championship challenge? -@LiamRedford

It would take a bellowing freight train slamming into Brad Keselowski to make him even flinch. Switching manufacturers will be a piece of cake. There will be growing pains, as there is with any sort of change in this sport, but Brad’s mind is a steel trap. Anything he grasps will not be lost.

He will be fine. No worries here.

One to watch for in 2013? -@CeCefiedAldean7

There are many drivers that will either flounder or flourish this upcoming season, but I will focus on three names many eyes should be locked on for various reasons.

Danica Patrick. Of course everyone will be focused on her. The announcers, the NASCAR media, fans, ect. To be perfectly honest, watching Danica will be quite entertaining. You’ll see why.

Clint Bowyer. He won’t suffer from the Runner-Up Curse, since he became runner-up in The Chase due to Jimmie Johnson’s issues. That MWR team is booming. Great things are coming for them, especially after a fantastic first season together.

Aric Almirola. Last season was a great starting point for him. His appearances in the top ten will soon turn into top fives, then . . . Well, you know how that goes. His progression will show this year. Don’t be surprised to see him win.

Do you think we will see 50 Cup cars entered at a race this year? -@Cody_Masse

I highly doubt we will. With sponsors falling away and the equipment getting more expensive, I don’t see that many cars attempting to get into a race, which is very depressing.

The off-season is halfway done, guys! Hang in there!