2013 Ride: No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford (NSCS and NNS)
2013 Primary Sponsors: Smithfield Foods, STP, U.S. Air Force, Mediallion Financial, Flying J / Pilot Travel Centers
2013 Owners: Richard Petty, Andy Murstein, Doug Bergeron
2013 Crew Chiefs: Todd Parrott (31 NSCS races), Sammy Johns (NSCS Talladega – October), Greg Ebert (4 NSCS races), Philippe Lopez (NNS)
Cup Stats: 36 races, 1 top 5, 6 top 10s, and 18th in points.
Best Cup Finish: 5th – Loudon (June).
Average Cup Finish: 18.8.
2013 Team Ranking: 1st of 2. Almirola and RPM teammate Marcos Ambrose combined to put up numbers that statistically resembled the tandem’s 2012 run in their second year together. With a career-high six top 10s, Almirola finished 19th in NSCS owner points, enough to best Ambrose after finishing behind him last year.
High Point: Three consecutive top 10s had Almirola on the verge of breaking into the top 10 in driver points entering the Aaron’s 499. After qualifying 18th and progressing into the top five early it appeared that Almirola would easily be able to extend that streak. But when front nose damage caused the No. 43 to overheat, the team had to rely on a caution period to stay out of the garage. When repairs were made Almirola was able to utilize the draft and capture a 10th-place finish.
Almirola was able to dodge the lap-44 ‘big one’ that collected 16 cars in Turn 1, and then stayed out of trouble outside of the ductwork issue that was fixed after a lap-175 caution. His comeback propelled the No. 43 team to eighth in points – the high-water mark for the ’13 campaign.
Low Point: Road courses have never been a strong point for Almirola. That trend needed to change at Watkins Glen to put an end to the gradual decline in production that began shortly after a fourth-straight top 10 at Talladega, but it didn’t.
Almirola ran as high as 21st position before a cut tire and crash on Lap 59 put an end to any hope of a turnaround. It was Almirola’s fourth and final DNF of the season, but it stalled all progress going forward. From that point on the No. 43 Ford was nothing more than a mid-pack car, and Almirola remained stagnant in the standings.
Summary: Almirola got off to an uncharacteristically good start. Through 11 races he was ranked among the best in NASCAR. Five of his six top 10s occurred during that span. But he returned to familiar form from that point onward.
Crew chief Todd Parrott was suspended indefinitely after violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy in October with Almirola stalled 18th in the standings. Over the final five races, Sammy Johns and Greg Ebert took responsibilities, but the replacements didn’t help to improve the No. 43 team’s output.
From a point perspective, Almirola made progress. Sure, 18th compared to last season’s 20th mark isn’t a large jump, but it means that he is at least capable of constantly staying NSCS worthy for RPM.
While the end of the year didn’t exactly turn heads, Almirola showed that he is capable of being a Chase caliber driver, if only for a short time span. The potential that he flashed during those early races has to impress Richard Petty.
Off-Track News: Almirola’s wife Janice gave birth to a daughter on Nov. 28th. Abby Lynn Almirola joins her big brother Alex as the couple’s second child.
2014 Outlook: RPM recently hired crew chief Trent Owens to help Almirola moving forward. Owens guided Kyle Larson to the NNS Rookie of the Year award with the No. 32 Turner Scott Motorsports team in 2013. He has also helped five different drivers achieve victories, including Dave Blaney, Mark Martin, James Buescher, Reed Sorenson and Nelson Piquet Jr. over the past two seasons.
Almirola will need to improve his consistency and performance on road courses and short tracks if he hopes to improve upon what he’s already accomplished. Owens’ experience should theoretically help in those regards.
2013 Frontstretch.com Grade: C. The potential for a B was there during the early portion of the season, but Almirola quickly became nothing more than a mid-packer from the summer months onwards.
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