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Aric Almirola: ‘Imperative’ Richard Petty Motorsports focus on one-car effort

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – After five seasons of running two cars in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Richard Petty Motorsports announced late last year it will only field its iconic No. 43 car this season.

It will be the first time a Richard Petty-owned team has fielded only one car since John Andretti drove for Petty Enterprises in 1998.

The reduction to one car, driven by Aric Almirola, came after Brian Scott retired after one season driving the No. 44.

“I can just tell you the facts and the fact is it was imperative for us to get our focus and put all of our resources and all of our energy and all of our effort into one thing,” Almirola said last week at the NASCAR Media Tour.

Almirola enters his sixth season driving the No. 43 made famous by Petty. It will be his first full-time Cup season without a teammate.

“Over the last couple years we have been a little bit diluted and so to be able to take this opportunity is not what we wanted as a race team by any means, but sometimes in life you get lemons and you have to make lemonade,” Almirola said. “This gives us the opportunity to do that.”

Among the lemons was RPM not qualifying either of its cars for the playoffs the last two seasons. After Almirola made the playoffs in 2014 off his win in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, he finished 17th and 26th in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Last season, the Florida-native failed to earn a top-five finish for the first time since 2009, when he made nine starts.

Scott, who finished 31st in last year’s standings, gave RPM its only top five of the year with his runner-up result in the Talladega playoff race.

“We retained a lot of employees, so now it’s all hands-on deck on that 43 car,” Almirola said. “It’s no secret that last year, 2016, was not a good season for us. It’s just the reality, but 2017 is a new year and we’ve got to take advantage of what’s ahead of us, and I feel like by us scaling back to one car gives us that opportunity to do that, rather than to try and piecemeal a second car together.”

Almirola said “a few opportunities” presented themselves to RPM to possibly run a second car, but they wouldn’t be “high quality” efforts. That resulted in the December announcement that Almirola would be going at it alone this season.

Another result of the reduction to one car is RPM “upped our ante” in its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing, another Ford team that reduced the number of Cup teams it’s fielding.

“Over the past several years leading up to last year, we were really good at supplementing,” Almirola said of RPM’s relationship with Roush. “We took what Roush gave us and worked on it and tuned on it ourselves, fluffed and buffed it, if you will, and took it to the race track. Then we kind of went out on a limb and started doing more and more and more on our own and we almost got to a point to where we spread ourselves too thin.”

Almirola believes further piggybacking “off of the knowledge and the people” at Roush will help his team turn back the clock to the 2014 season, when he gave RPM just its third win since 2010.

RPM’s single-car campaign begins in the Feb. 26 Daytona 500.

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NASCAR America: Dale Jr.’s aggressiveness at Sonoma pays off, will need it at Daytona

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Dale Earnhardt was very aggressive in his final Cup start at Sonoma Raceway, and while it may have resulted in his Lap 14 accident in Turn 11, it also helped produce his third top 10 of the year and his second in a row.

“I think being offensive is better than being passive on a road course, nothing wrong with that,” said NASCAR America analyst Max Papis, who also broke down what caused Earnhardt’s bizarre spin early in Sunday’s race that also involved Danica Patrick and Kyle Larson.

“You’ve got to commit, usually the pass has happened before you actually arrive at the corner,” Papis said. “He thought that was a good opportunity, (then) committed. ”

NASCAR America’s analysts also discussed Earnhardt’s upcoming start at Daytona, which likely will be his final Cup start there. The track may be his best shot to earn a win and a spot in the playoffs.

The analysts believe the aggressiveness that was on display at Sonoma will be necessary for Earnhardt to pull a win out at Daytona.

Earnhardt’s year got off to a rough start in the Daytona 500. He was leading the race when Kyle Busch lost a tire in Turn 3 on Lap 105, spun and collected Earnhardt, Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones.

Earnhardt was near the front at Talladega in May late in the race when he was forced to pit for a loose tire with less than 15 laps to go.

That leaves the 14-time most popular driver with just two more chances to win a restrictor-plate race, the format he’s earned 10 of his 26 Cup Series wins.

“They’ve got to find a way to give him a car where he can be aggressive Dale Jr.,” Jeff Burton said. “What makes him so good at Daytona and Talladega is that he doesn’t hesitate. He’s the guy setting the tempo, he’s the guy forcing the issue. … He can’t drive with caution, he can’t drive worried about if ‘is my car going to stick?’ He’s got to stick it in there and know it’s going to stick. He hasn’t had that the last several plate races.”

Watch the above video for the full discussion.

NASCAR’s preliminary entry lists for Daytona

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NASCAR returns to Daytona International Speedway this weekend with the Cup and Xfinity Series.

Cup teams will compete in the Coke Zero 400, which will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday on NBC and the Xfinity Series holds the Coca-Colca Firecracker 250, which will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday on NBCSN.

Here are the entry lists for both races.

Cup – Coke Zero 400

Forty cars are entered into the 17th race of the Cup season. That would make it the sixth race this year to have the most possible cars in the field.

Darrell Wallace Jr. will be back in the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. Brendan Gaughan will drive the No. 75 Chevrolet for Beard Motorsports.

Ryan Sieg will drive the No. 83 Toyota for BK Racing in his third start for the team.

Kurt Busch won the last trip to Daytona, leading only the last lap of the Daytona 500 after multiple leaders ran out of gas in the closing laps. Brad Keselowski won last year’s Coke Zero 400.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Coca-Cola Firecracker 250

There are 43 cars on the preliminary entry list for this race, including four full-time Cup drivers. They are Ty Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Joey Logano.

There is no driver announced for the No. 93 Chevrolet owned by RSS racing.

Ryan Reed won the February Xfinity race at Daytona after being involved in two crashes and leading nine laps. Aric Almirola won last year’s July race after a caution on the last lap forced NASCAR to review video and loop data and determined him the winner over Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the entry list.

NASCAR America: Kyle Busch can afford to lose interim crew chief for Daytona

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Kyle Busch may have yet another view in his ear this weekend when he races in the Coke Zero 400.

Interim crew chief Ben Beshore may be suspended for the race after two unsecured lug nuts were found on the No. 18 Toyota after the Sonoma race.

The possible loss of Beshore comes after Busch’s usual crew chief, Adam Stevens, was suspended four races for a wheel falling off Busch’s car following a pit stop at Dover.

Daytona will be the fourth race of that suspension. NASCAR America’s analysts discussed the impact of the possible suspension for Busch, who is still looking for his first win since July of last year.

“They’re not making mistakes, they’re just finding themselves in difficult positions,” Dale Jarrett said. “This is certainly another one of those, going to a race track Kyle Busch can win at. But who you have on that pit box means a lot as for performing all through a race.”

Said Jeff Burton, “The frustration level is mounting, obviously. Kyle Busch is expecting to win races. … I think if you’re going to lose your crew chief, this is probably the race you want to lose it for. Going to Daytona, you pretty much have a plan going there. The pit strategy will be interesting with the stages, but if I was going to a race track, this would be the race I’d feel most comfortable without my crew chief.”

Watch the above video for the full segment.

Eddie Pardue named crew chief for Jeffrey Earnhardt’s No. 33 car

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The Circle Sport/The Motorsports Group announced that Eddie Pardue is the new crew chief on its No. 33 Chevrolet effective immediately.

Pardue, who was the team’s head of engineering, will lead the effort on Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s car this weekend in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. This will be his first Cup race as a crew chief since 2008, when he led Greg Biffle in one race at Auto Club Speedway. He has three wins in 338 races as crew chief in the Xfinity Series dating back to 1998.

The former competition director for Red Horse Racing in the Camping World Truck Series, Pardue replaces Pay Tryson, who has been released from the team.

Tryson directed Boris Said at Sonoma Raceway, where he finished 29th. Earnhardt has been in the No. 33 in every other race. His best result in his first 15 starts was 26th in the Daytona 500.

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