Eight Great For Almirola

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Aric Almirola sure didn't look like a driver who had not competed in more than four months. In only his seventh career NASCAR Sprint Cup start the 24-year-old U.S. Army driver took on one of NASCAR's toughest tracks Sunday and posted an eighth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway.

"Awesome, just awesome," said crew chief Tony Gibson. "Aric drove the wheels off that Army Chevrolet. We had a decent car, not a great one. But Aric drove both patiently and hard. He has talent. The team believes in him and he believes in us. He is in the future and we're just happy that he is driving our stuff."

Almirola, whose last Cup race was in November in Phoenix, was solid all day, driving like a seasoned professional on the half-mile bullring.

"These guys on this Army team deserve the credit," said Almirola, who celebrated his 24th birthday on Friday. "I had a good car with a lot of speed and didn't have to hustle it. It was a lot of fun out there and I want to thank the U.S. Army, DEI, Tony (Gibson) and all the guys on this team for believing in me. The pit stops were excellent all day."

"We had great test sessions and this validates what we've been doing," added Almirola. "I have all the confidence in the world with this team. I am also very happy for all of our soldiers, they inspire me and they inspire this team and I am very happy that we gave them something to be proud of."

Almirola, who received congratulations from a number of drivers and crew chiefs after the race, said he can't wait to get back in the car.

"As long as I am in the race car, I am happy," offered Almirola, who will also drive the No. 8 Chevrolet in the next Cup race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (March 30) as part of his 12-race schedule with Dale Earnhardt Inc. He is sharing the ride with veteran Mark Martin.

Almirola started the race from the 16th position and drove in the top 15 for nearly the entire race. He moved in and out of the top 10 late in the race and when the event went green for the final two-lap overtime restart he picked up two positions.

"I felt great in the car and never got tired," said Almirola. "I worked out hard during the off-season and I've never been in better shape. I'm looking forward to Martinsville in two weeks."

Almirola's previous best finish in a Cup race was 26th in Phoenix last fall.

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