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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