Storming out of the gate with a top-five finish in February’s Daytona 500, it’s been another tough season for Richard Petty Motorsports and Aric Almirola.
In fact, you could call that 500-miler their only bright spot through the opening eight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, which have seen only one top-15 finish since the season opener.
That was until Sunday at Richmond International Raceway when a late-race shake-up opened an opportunity for the No. 43 team. Almirola came home ninth.
“We typically run well here, this is one of our better tracks,” Almirola said. “It’s great to have a solid finish. A solid top 10, really proud of the effort.”
Starting 25th, Almirola was busted for a blend line violation which put him a lap down. The long green-flag conditions made it tough, but the slew of late yellows gave Almirola a chance at redemption.
“I hate we got that penalty under that green-flag stop,” he said. “I really thought the rule from the driver’s meeting was all four [tires] on or below the orange box and I just barely clipped the box. I got a pass through which put us a lap down. We battled back. We have a little more work to do to continue to get better and race the guys up front.”
In his sixth season with RPM, a top 10 means more for him than most drivers. With only one total in 2016, the 33-year-old says his team needs to build momentum toward the summer stretch. Sunday was that type of run.
“It’s a moral-booster,” he said. “I don’t think we had any top 10s last year so to have a top five at Daytona, come out of here with a top 10, a solid day. Everyone did a great job. We ran up front in the top 12 or 15. To get out of here with a top 10 was a day we deserved.”
Almirola leaves Richmond now inside the top 20 in points in 19th with an average finish on track to be a career-best through 10 Cup seasons.