Team Preview: Richard Petty Motorsports

Richard Petty Motorsports

Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose will carry the Cup Series hopes for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2012. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

Share: counts down to the start of Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway with a series of team previews.  Next up is a look at Richard Petty Motorsports.

On its official website, Richard Petty Motorsports states prominently that “Racing is our DNA.”  For the organization’s namesake, substituting the word “Winning” for racing would also be appropriate.

“King Richard” won 200 races in his Hall of Fame Cup Series career, tops on NASCAR’s all-time list.  The two drivers wheeling his RPM Fords this season, Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola, have combined to start only 154 races.

But for 2012, the arrival of Almirola and the return of Ambrose – who is coming off his first career win – have sent expectations soaring as RPM prepares for its fourth season.

The big buzz has settled around Almirola, who replaces AJ Allmendinger in the famed No. 43.

“One of the things I am most excited about is to have the chance to drive a car as iconic as the No. 43,” said Almirola, a Florida native who’ll celebrate his 28th birthday next month.  “There is so much history surrounding it and to have my name above the door will be really special.”

Almirola has raced sparingly in the Cup Series since his debut in 2007.  He concentrated solely on the Nationwide Series in 2011, where he raced for JR Motorsports and finished fourth in points.

Almirola hasn’t driven a Cup car since November 2010.  Ironically, it was a Richard Petty Motorsports entry.  He filled in for the departing Kasey Kahne for the last five races that season and posted a career-best fourth in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“This is the first real opportunity I’ve had to drive the Cup Series full-time,” Almirola said.  “Last year, the ‘43’ had a lot of speed and was competitive on a weekly basis.  Greg Erwin is a great crew chief and I’m excited to work with him.  Everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports has a lot of enthusiasm and drive, and I’m really looking forward to getting started.”

It was that enthusiasm and drive that lifted the team into 15th place in the final 2011 owner point standings, assuring Almirola of a starting spot in at least the first five races of the new season – beginning with the 54th running of the Daytona 500.

“Ultimately, we felt Aric would be the best fit for the team, and for our current and potential partners,” said Petty, who recently signed Smithfield Foods, Inc. as a sponsor for 15 of Almirola’s races in 2012.  “We’ve had the chance to watch his progress for the past several years and we had success with him in the past.  We’re confident in his potential as a Cup Series driver.  Aric has all the makings to be the next bright star in our sport.”

Ambrose, 35, is entering his fifth year in the Sprint Cup Series and his second at RPM.  2011 was his best season at NASCAR’s top level.  With veteran crew chief Todd Parrott calling the shots, Ambrose rose to 19th in the final point standings.  He had 12 top 10s in 36 starts, including the victory in August at Watkins Glen International.

Stanley Black & Decker is among the partners returning to sponsor Ambrose’s No. 9 Ford in 2012.

In addition to the two-car effort in the Sprint Cup Series, RPM will field a Nationwide Series entry for Michael Annett this year as he makes a full-season run at the championship.

Speedweeks will open Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway.  As Ambrose seeks win No. 2 in the Cup Series, Almirola will continue pursuit of his first victory in the Feb. 26 Daytona 500 … a mere two days before the 52nd anniversary of the boss’s initial Cup Series win.

Richard Petty claimed the first of his 200 career victories on Feb. 28, 1960.

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