Team Preview: Richard Petty Motorsports

Aric Almirola

"It's 'All hands on deck!' for the '43' car and we'll make every effort to get that running the way it should." (Photo: Getty Images)

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For Richard Petty Motorsports and driver Aric Almirola, consolidation has led to confidence with the start of the 2017 season right around the corner.

Following Brian Scott's retirement last fall, RPM announced that it would scale back operations from two cars to one - parking the No. 44 entry to focus solely on the No. 43 Ford. In Almirola's eyes, it was the right thing to do - not just because he kept his ride, but it will give team owner Richard Petty the opportunity to get his slumping organization back on track.

"It's no secret that last year was not a good season for us," said Almirola, who went winless in 2016 and missed a berth in the Chase by more than 200 points. "It was imperative for us to get our focus and put all of our resources, all of our energy and all of our effort into one thing."

The "one thing" Almirola speaks of is getting the iconic No. 43 entry back toward the front of the field. His best finish in 36 starts last season was eighth place in the fall race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Now, Almirola - who turns 33 next month - is turning his attention to a fresh start when Speedweeks opens Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway.

"It's 'All hands on deck!' for the '43' car and we'll make every effort to get that running the way it should," said Almirola, marking the 10th anniversary of his Cup Series debut. "Richard Petty Motorsports thought this would be in our best interest. I commend them for that and I'm looking forward to getting this car back up front."

For 2017, RPM is continuing a technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.

"We don't have an engineering staff of 70 or 80 people, like many of the teams we race against, but Roush Fenway does," Almirola notes. "We pull from the knowledge, resources and the people they have, bring their cars into our shop and go from there. This will get us back to where we were two years ago, when we were much more competitive."

Indeed, the 2015 season was solid for Almirola. He finished as the highest-placed non-Chase driver in points with six top-10 finishes ... five more than last year. It's those types of numbers RPM is hoping to get back to in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

With the addition of Stewart-Haas Racing to the Ford camp for 2017, Almirola says the manufacturer is working even harder to build an enduring sense of teamwork among all drivers who represent the famed "Blue Oval" in NASCAR's top tier.

"Their focus is as much on building connections and bonds among us as drivers, and on the personnel side, as much as they are with the performance and engineering of our racecars," Almirola said. "That goes a long way toward helping us all feel connected."

And with the season-opening Daytona 500 now just a few weeks away, the Tampa, Fla., native is eager to return to his home state.

"First of all, I don't like cold weather," he said. "I've lived in North Carolina for 13 years and have yet to get accustomed to it. In Florida, I got used to humidity, sunshine, swimming in the pool and being outside year-round. So I look forward to getting back down there."

Daytona International Speedway is the site of Almirola's lone Cup Series win, in July 2014. He also was victorious in the track's XFINITY Series race in July of last year.
 
"I love Daytona," he says, stating the obvious. "It's a special place for me."

Daytona International Speedway will open for NASCAR teams on Friday, Feb. 17, with the season-opening Daytona 500 scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 26. Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" will have live coverage of "The Great American Race" beginning at 1 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com and on the MRN App.

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