Team Preview: Richard Petty Motorsports

Richard Petty Motorsports

RPM will bring back the tandem of Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola in 2013. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

Share: counts down to the start of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, and the running of the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway, with a series of team previews.  Next up is a look at Richard Petty Motorsports.

Richard Petty Motorsports looks to continue its climb back to prominence in the Sprint Cup Series.

The Ford organization will bring back the tandem of Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola in 2013 after both drivers turned in solid if not spectacular seasons a year ago.

“There’s a lot to be said for coming back with the same group of guys that we needed last year with for this season,” said Petty. “It gives up something to build on and I liked what I saw from this team last season. I think we’re getting better."

Marcos AmbroseAmbrose gave "The King" a win when the Sprint Cup Series made its annual trek to Watkins Glen International Raceway in August. The road-racing specialist took the checkered flag in what turned out to be one of the season's most exciting races, outrunning Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch to the finish line on a wild last lap.

Although he managed to finish 18th in the standings with three top-five and eight top-10 efforts, Ambrose did it with three crew chiefs.

He started the year with veteran Todd Parrott before RPM moved him over to work with Almirola about midseason. Former Denny Hamlin crew chief Mike Ford was swapped from the No. 43 entry to Ambrose's No. 9 Ford, but that only lasted a handful of races until Drew Blickensderfer came aboard from Richard Childress Racing.

The Ambrose-Blickensderfer pairing seems solid, and there is hope for it to blossom in the coming year.

"We want to compete for a championship – plain and simple,” said Ambrose. “I think we have a great team and a lot of continuity. There’s no reason we can’t make that jump (to the Chase).”

Blickensderfer returned to the Ford fold last season after leading Roush Fenway Racing for Childress. Things didn’t work out for Blickensderfer with Jeff Burton and the RCR No. 31 team and he found his way back to the Ford family with RPM, which continues its alliance with Roush again in 2013.

“I was able to leave Roush-Fenway on really good terms last year, to pursue an opportunity,” Blickensderfer said. “I have had some success here, won a lot of Nationwide races, a few cup races, sat on poles last year and I was able to leave these guys on good terms. think that helped me a lot. They wanted me back. They called me a couple of times during the year to talk to me about certain plans they may have in the future and it kept me in good terms with the people here and Ford.”

Almirola was signed to drive the iconic RPM No. 43 ride at the start of the year as Petty made the decision to pass over the available-but-controversial Kurt Busch. It provided the former Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series regular another shot at running full-time in NASCAR's top division.

Unfortunately for Almirola, he struggled during the year with three DNFs. He also endured working with three crew chiefs starting with Greg Erwin before a stint with Ford and finally ending up with Parrott.

Aric AlmirolaAlmirola finished 20th in the standings and did score a pole along with four top-10 finishes. He’s hoping to build on that with a solid group of returning sponsors as well including Smithfield Foods and the U.S. Air Force.

“I think we need to be in the top 15 in points,” said Almirola. “I feel like if I can run consistently inside the top 15, and we can win a race, with this new points system anything is possible – maybe even a wild-card spot.”

RPM was a candidate to make a switch back to Dodge in the wake of Penske Racing leaving the manufacturer, but in the end will also return to the Ford camp. Ambrose and Almirola will be back behind the wheel, and both should benefit from the past year's experience as well as continuity within the team.

“This is a tough deal,” Petty said of competing in the Sprint Cup Series. “It’s not easy but we’ve got some good things going I think that’ll make us competitive. Having some of the questions of past years answered like who’s driving our cars, staying with Ford and sponsors is also gonna help us be able to stay focused on running better on the race track.”

Photos: Jeff Wackerlin

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