MOORESVILLE, N.C. (March 23, 2015) – Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) completed their three-race West Coast swing Sunday afternoon at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. After an 11th-place finish, Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Smithfield Ford team are now 10th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points after the first five races.
The mark in points for the 43 team is the best since Paul Menard led RPM to a ninth-place spot in points to start the 2010 season after five races. Since that time, RPM has a new ownership group and moved into a new building this season with the capability to work on their own bodies. It’s an effort that is paying off.
“We are controlling a little bit of our own destiny and we have seen some positive results early in the season,” said Sammy Johns, Director of Competition. “We have a lot more work to do, and we need to get the ‘9’ team higher in points, but we’re encouraged with the direction and momentum early in the year.”
The start to the 2015 season is the best for Almirola in his Sprint Cup Series career. He also knows there is room for improvement.
“We are not where we want to be, but we’re making the most of our races and getting the best finishes possible,” commented Almirola. “We all know we have room to improve, but I’m proud of the effort our team is putting in each Sunday to get us good results so far.”
Sam Hornish Jr. and the No. 9 Ford team haven’t had the ‘racing luck’ they have hoped for to start the season, but they know that it won’t take a lot to turn their season around.
“We know that we can turn this around pretty quickly,” said Hornish Jr. “Our team has great guys and we just need to keep our heads down. If we do that, the results will come.”
RPM now heads to the Martinsville (Va.) Speedway where they have six Top-10 finishes and two Top-Five finishes.
Aric Almirola, No. 43 Smithfield Ford Team
Restarts were key for Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Smithfield team. Despite having a car that shined on the long run, Almirola used the outside line to his advantage and gained a lot of positions on restarts. The most important was the final restart of the Auto Club 400. He picked up nine spots in the final two laps to finish 11th for his third Top-15 finish of the season.
Almirola started the 400-mile race from the 23rd position. He worked up to the 19th spot when the No. 18 spun and brought out the caution on Lap 24. Needing more grip and front turn, Crew Chief Trent Owens called for a four-tire pit stop and an air pressure adjustment. The No. 43 Smithfield Ford restarted 19th and Almirola picked up seven spots on the restart.
In the 17th spot, Almirola tried adjusting the trackbar and found the right adjustment. The No. 43 Smithfield Ford’s lap times improved by a tenth of a second and Almirola drove into the 15th spot before green-flag pit stops started. With the adjustment helping the car’s handling, Owens called for a four-tire pit stop on Lap 62.
On Lap 88, debris brought out the second caution of the race. Almirola said the “Petty Blue” Ford was pretty neutral but tight in the center and loose off the corner. The Smithfield team changed four tires and restarted 15th. During this run, the car’s handling went away. Struggling with tightness in the corner and snappy loose off, Almirola fell to 18th. A Lap 99 caution allowed the team to make an adjustment to help the Ford.
Owens called for a four-tire pit stop and an adjustment. Almirola restarted 17th and raced three-wide. As the field continued to race three-wide, a car made contact with the No. 43 Ford and bent the right-front fender in. A few laps later, Almirola reported that the handling of the Smithfield Ford worsened with the damage. He raced up into the 15th spot before the field saw another round of green-flag pit stops.
The Smithfield team made a four-tire pit stop with adjustments and tried to pull out the right-front fender. Unfortunately, since it was under green-flag conditions, they didn’t have a lot of time to fix the damage. Almirola returned to the track in the 18th spot. A debris caution on Lap 154 gave the team the opportunity they needed to work on the damage. With only a few cars behind them on the lead lap, the No. 43 team took additional time during a four-tire pit stop to work on the right-front fender.
The fix worked, and Almirola picked up three spots on the restart. The No. 43 Smithfield Ford ran in the 15th position. Another debris caution on Lap 186 allowed the team to make an air pressure adjustment during their four-tire pit stop.
Almirola restarted 16th with 11 laps remaining and in two laps drove into the 13th spot. On Lap 200, NASCAR Officials called a debris caution. With only a handful of cars behind the No. 43 Smithfield Ford, Owens opted to pit for four tires and make an air pressure adjustment to help the car’s handling for a Green-White-Checkered finish.
The team restarted 19th and unfortunately on the inside line. Struggling to get to the outside line where the car handled better, Almirola fell to 20th when NASCAR Officials called another debris caution. On the second Green-White-Checkered attempt, Almirola started from the 20th position in the outside line. As he did earlier in the race, he shot to the outside and passed seven cars on the restart and then an additional two during the final lap to bring home an 11th-place finish.
“It was a solid day for us,” said Almirola. “We ran in the Top-15 for most of the day, so I’m really proud of Trent and all the guys on this Smithfield team. They gave me a solid car, and we ran solid all day. Then, I was really worried there at the end. I thought we were going to get kind of suckered out of a good finish with all those guys we had trapped a lap down and they all got back on the lead lap, so I was thankful to get a really good restart on that last start and pass quite a few cars. We passed nine cars on that last restart, and we got the finish we probably deserved. We ran up there all day, so I’m proud of the guys. That was a decent car for us, and we just keep making progress.”
Sam Hornish Jr., No. 9 Medallion Bank Ford Team
Just a lap short of halfway, contact with another car sent Sam Hornish Jr and his No. 9 Medallion Bank Ford team into the outside wall during Sunday’s race at the Auto Club Speedway. With extensive damage, the team was forced to bring the Medallion Bank Ford to the garage for repairs. The No. 9 crew was able to get Hornish back on the track for the final 59 laps and finish in the 43rd-position.
The No. 9 Medallion Bank team earned a 16th-place starting spot for Sunday’s race. From the start of the 200-lap race, Hornish battled the handling of the No. 9 Ford Fusion, reporting the car was free on off the corner and needed to turn better through the middle of the corner. Hornish was running in the 24th position when a spin in Turn Four brought out the first caution. After receiving feedback from Hornish, Crew Chief Drew Blickensderfer called the No. 9 Ford to pit road for four tires, a wedge adjustment and fuel. He restarted in the 25th position on Lap 28.
The two-mile track created hard racing on multiple grooves, and it didn’t take long for Hornish to hear “three-wide” in his radio. As he raced among traffic, he reported that the Medallion Bank Ford was really pushing on the exit of the turn, making it hard for him to get the car to stay where he needed it to. Blickensderfer and the Medallion Bank team talked through options for the upcoming pit stop and called Hornish to pit road for a green-flag pit stop on Lap 57 for four tires, a wedge adjustment and fuel.
Running just inside the Top-30 after his green-flag stop, Hornish reported the handling of the No. 9 Ford wasn’t consistent through the corners with each lap. He provided Blickensderfer with as much feedback as possible on how the car was handling at certain points on the track. The Medallion Bank crew received another opportunity to work on the car on Lap 88 when NASCAR Officials brought out the caution for debris. This time, it was a four-tire stop as well as an air pressure adjustment and fuel for the No. 9 Ford. Hornish restarted in the 32nd position on Lap 93.
Just six laps later, contact between Hornish and another car sent him into the outside wall causing extensive damage to the right side of the car and sending the No. 9 Ford to the garage for repairs. It was all hands on deck for the No. 9 Medallion Bank crew, and they were able to get Hornish back on track on Lap 148.
With no positions to be gained, Hornish and the No. 9 crew used the final 59 laps to gain information for their intermediate track program. He finished the race in the 43rd position, 54 laps down.
|About Richard Petty Motorsports
A performance and marketing driven company, Richard Petty Motorsports, co-owned by
NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty and successful business entrepreneur Andrew Murstein, is one of the most recognized brands in all of motorsports. With a history of over 200 wins and business partnerships with national and global leaders, today the race operation fields two teams in competition in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Aric Almirola pilots the famous No. 43 Ford Fusion with primary partners Smithfield Foods, U.S. Air Force, STP and Fresh From Florida, and Sam Hornish Jr. drives the No. 9 machine with primary partners Medallion Bank and Twisted Tea. In addition, Dakoda Armstrong wheels the No. 43 WinField Ford Mustang full-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. The team is headquartered in Mooresville, N.C.