NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Aric Almirola talks about the progress of NASCAR as a sport and the progress of the Ford Fusion.
RELATED: Darlington's throwback paint schemes Some people might call it sky blue or even Carolina blue, but in racing it's Petty Blue, and with Day-Glo Red and white it creates the iconic No. 43 paint scheme that will dress up Aric Almirola 's No. 43 STP Ford for the Sept. 6 Bojangles' Southern 500 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Almirola's throwback paint scheme honors Richard Petty's 1972 Plymouth Roadrunner, the first time The King's car featured sponsor STP with the Petty Blue and Day-Glo Red on the quarter panels. "STP has been a proud partner of Richard Petty for nearly 44 years now, and all of that started with this 1972 paint scheme," said Jamie Kistner, vice president of marketing for STP. "To be able to bring that first year back to the track through this paint scheme and with Aric Almirola has been a lot of fun and has brought back some great memories of STP's storied history in NASCAR for our fans. Darlington Raceway is hosting a great throwback event that's produced a lot of excitement and we're honored to be a part of it." STP Racing announced the throwback paint scheme on Twitter with a video honoring the No. 43's history and showing the painting of the Darlington car. Petty, a seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, raced with the STP logo on the hood of his No. 43 car for 21 years. The King has 200 career wins, and 60 of them came with STP aboard. "It will be neat to see the car that started our partnership with STP 43 years ago back on track at Darlington," said Petty. "It will be fun to see all the throwback schemes racing at Darlington and on Labor Day Weekend. It just feels right to have the Southern 500 back to Labor Day Weekend and is fitting that we celebrate tradition there with throwback paint schemes." Several members of the 1972 championship-winning team will be with Richard Petty Motorsports at Darlington: crew chief Dale Inman, as well as crew members Richie Barsz, fabricator; Tex Powell, mechanic and jackman; Les Barsz, mechanic and transporter driver; Billy Biscoe, mechanic and gas man; Jimmy "Zoomer" Kovalchik, fabricator and tire carrier; and Barry Dodson, painter. MORE: Hall of Fame driver Labonte to be grand marshal for race
RELATED: Full series standings " Chase Grid BRISTOL, Tenn. -- In postseason terms, Aric Almirola is still an outsider, but not by much -- just 23 points behind Clint Bowyer , the final driver on the provisional Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff grid. It would be easy, if not exactly sporting, for Almirola to rejoice about Bowyer's short-term woes -- a 41st-place finish last week at Michigan -- and wider-scope issues -- the impending breakup of Bowyer's Michael Waltrip Racing team at season's end. While opportunities exist for Almirola to capitalize, he's not expecting his would-be Chase rivals to merely play out the string. "There are two ways to look at it," Almirola said after Friday's final Sprint Cup practice at Bristol Motor Speedway. "One is, yeah, they may be vulnerable and guys are kind of distracted and they're scrambling looking for jobs, but the other way to look at that is they don't have anything to lose, so they can push all the gray areas as hard as they can and be really aggressive and what's the worst that's going to happen? They're not going to lose their jobs because they're already looking for work. "There are a couple different ways to look at that and I think as hardcore racers as all those guys that he has on his team are, they're not gonna lay down; they're not gonna give up; they're gonna fight hard; they're gonna try and make the Chase. It's about pride. Everybody in this garage area has egos and we all want to beat our competitors and I doubt any of those guys, Clint included, are going to lay down." Almirola aims to gain more Chase ground, starting with Saturday night's Irwin Tools Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM), the third-to-last race of the Sprint Cup regular season. Besides Bowyer in front of him, he also has Kasey Kahne just three points off his heels with three unpredictable races -- Bristol, Darlington, Richmond -- looming on the schedule. The fickle nature of all three tracks presents the opportunity for wild points swings, but Almirola would prefer to get to the Chase on the merits of performance. Richard Petty Motorsports ' season-long search for speed in Almirola's No. 43 and teammate Sam Hornish Jr .'s No. 9 has made that a more difficult prospect. "We've had a few setbacks that were costly to us, but all in all we've had 15th-place cars and we've been running top-15 with them," Almirola said. "That's really all we can do. The guys back at the shop are working extremely hard and so is everybody else in the garage area to bring better cars to the race track every weekend. We've just been playing catch-up all year long. I'm really proud of everybody at RPM, but the moral of the story is we just need more speed in our cars and as we work harder and harder and continue to get more speed in our cars, our results will reflect that." One factor that has made matters trickier -- opening-day pitfalls in back-to-back race weekends. This Friday, Almirola made contact with the outside retaining wall in opening practice, forcing his RPM crew into repair mode to keep his primary car intact. But it hardly compares with last weekend's adversity, which left him ailing and infirm in Michigan's infield care center. After missing portions of practice last weekend, Almirola rallied for a 14th-place finish in the Pure Michigan 400 . This weekend, he's happy to leave his ailment several states away. "I'm back to 100 percent but my goodness was that rough," Almirola said. "I never felt so bad in a long time. I had some sort of 24-hour stomach virus and it was maybe a little longer than 24 hours, maybe 36 hours, and I was down for the count. I was laying in the infield care center on Thursday night from 11 to maybe 2:30 in the morning getting IVs and went back to the bus and got a little bit of sleep, but woke up every half-hour with throwing up or whatever and you know what the other is, so it was a long night. "I got back up the next morning and went back to get some more IVs and I watched the first hour of practice laying on my couch in my motorhome and it was all I could do to gather myself up and get over to the garage and make a couple laps at practice."
RELATED: See who is in the Chase " Full series standings RICHMOND, Va. – Aric Almirola leaned back against his bright blue Ford and took a long swig of water. The disappointment was evident on his face, but so was the determination. He missed making the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field by a slim 17 points, but Almirola was certain that he had given it all he had. His No. 43 Richard Petty-owned Ford finished fourth in Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway in an impressive and impassioned effort from a 24th-place starting position. Almirola's most realistic shot of earning one of the 16 Chase berths was to win the race, and he sure made a run at it, advancing as high as third on a restart with 18 laps remaining. "Disappointed for sure," Almirola said on pit road. "I drove my heart out tonight and all year long, really. I feel like we've overachieved this year. Our cars really haven't had the speed and we've managed a way to get good results. "This race team is a great race team and we wanted another shot at it, and we just came up short. Just wasn't meant to be." It was a similar feeling after the race from other high profile Chase near-misses such as veteran Kasey Kahne , who fell 33 points shy of qualifying and last year's Sunoco Rookie of the Year, Kyle Larson , who also missed making his first postseason appearance. For the first time since the Chase format was instituted in 2004, there will be no Roush Fenway Racing cars among the playoff contenders. RELATED: Chase format explained While Almirola and Kahne could have made it on points if they got some help, Larson had to score a victory to earn a Chase berth because he was too far back in the point standings. Larson qualified well (11th) among the group of must-win-to-get-in drivers and ran among the top 10 for much of the night. But while his Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates teammate Jamie McMurray secured the team its first Chase appearance since Juan Pablo Montoya in 2009 -- Larson's 12th place finish Saturday wasn't quite good enough to put the team "all in." "We ran about where we typically do here at Richmond, which is right around the top 10," Larson said. "I don't think anybody was beating [race winner] Matt Kenseth tonight. He was super fast. "Disappointing run for the Chase. I think everybody on our team thought the 42 would definitely be in the Chase to start the season after the way we ended last year. But it wasn't the case this season, so we'll work hard the last 10 races to try and run strong for Target and get them a win and work on being consistent. "That's where we've struggled pretty much all year long was being consistent, so we'll try and work hard at that and try and finish strong." Larson's team owner Chip Ganassi was equally philosophic about the situation. "I'm not one of these guys that gets disappointed because one guy's in and one guy's not," Ganassi said. "When you can punch somebody into the playoffs, that's good for the whole team. "Would I like to have two cars in the Chase? Yes. Who wouldn't? It's not to be. … You're happy for the ones that are in and sad for the ones that are not. The fact you have one in there makes it good for the entire team." RELATED: Ganassi undergoes surgery It was an undeniably tough night to have to win your way into the postseason. Kenseth led a dominating 352 of the race's 400 laps to finish ahead of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch . Three JGR cars – also including sixth-place finisher Denny Hamlin – led all but 25 of the race's laps. Kahne conceded he never really had anything for the JGR cars. He ran between 15th and 20th for most of the race and his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy finished 18th, two laps down to the winner. It's the first time in four seasons that Kahne did not qualify for the Chase. "I think the main thing for me is just figuring out how to get a car to turn again," Kahne analyzed. "I've struggled all year to have front turn and if I don't have that, I can't race. That's how I've been my whole life. We'll just work on trying to get the cars the way I need them to and if we can't, we'll keep running about 15th." RELATED: Hendrick discusses state of organization
Check out the inspiration for Aric Almirola's iconic Darlington throwback paint scheme.
Aric Almirola finishes fourth, but comes up 17 points short of making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Kyle Larson is also left out of the 2015 Chase Grid.
RELATED: Full final practice results Kevin Harvick topped the speed chart in final practice for Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR). He wheeled the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet around Dover's 1-mile track at a top speed of 156.033 mph in the 14 laps he ran before rain resumed, ending the session. Carl Edwards was second-fastest in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs racing Toyota at 156.013 mph, followed by Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at 155.783 mph. Harvick's teammate Kurt Busch and the No. 41 Chevrolet posted the fourth-fastest speed in the final Sprint Cup practice session at 155.588 mph. Sitting on the Chase bubble going into Sunday's race, Dale Earnhardt Jr . got the fifth-quickest speed out of his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at 155.434 mph. Amid a schedule compressed by rain that wiped out all of Friday's on-track activities and cut into Saturday's first practice, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers lost the track to rain again about 15 minutes into the second session. RELATED: First practice results After more rain doused Dover International Speedway Saturday morning, canceling NASCAR XFINITY Series practice, NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series got a 25-minute practice in and Kasey Kahne made the most of it. Kahne wheeled his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet around Dover's 1-mile track at 160.506 mph, topping the speed chart. Carl Edwards was second quickest in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at 160.442 mph. JGR teammate Denny Hamlin was right behind Edwards at 160.285 mph. It was the first time Sprint Cup cars had been on track after rain washed out Friday's practice and qualifying. Kevin Harvick was fourth on the leaderboard at 159.964 mph in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. The No. 4 team and No. 2 team of Brad Keselowski had been docked 15 minutes of practice time for infractions at New Hampshire in the inspection process. Given the amended schedule, neither the Stewart-Haas entry nor the Team Penske entry was required to serve the time -- it will instead carry over to the next race at Charlotte. Aric Almirola rounded out the top five with a speed of 159.943 mph in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.
Aric Almirola joins the #NASCARGoesWest crew at the Camping World RV to grill and chill in Phoenix. Visit CampingWorld.com to find everything you need for your RV!
Aric Almirola sat out a portion of Friday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Michigan International Speedway as he dealt with an illness. According to a release provided by Richard Petty Motorsports , Almirola was suffering from what the team hopes is a 24-hour virus. The team said it intended for Almirola to make limited laps in practice in the No. 43 Ford in hopes of participating in Coors Light Pole Qualifying later and retaining his starting spot for Sunday's main event. Almirola did participate in qualifying and will lineup 30th for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM). The team retained two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton as a relief driver for the bulk of Friday's lone practice. It isn't the first substitute role in the Sprint Cup Series for Crafton. The 39-year-old driver filled in for Paul Menard , awaiting the birth of his first child, during practice in March 2014 at Auto Club Speedway. Crafton also was an 11th-hour replacement for the injured Kyle Busch in the 2015 Daytona 500 . Almirola is the highest-ranking driver outside of the provisional Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason grid entering Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 . He made his first Chase appearance last year after scoring his first Sprint Cup win at Daytona International Speedway in July. NBCSN reported that Almirola was received treatment at the 2-mile track's infield care center. The change of plans for Crafton was amplified by the adjustment to the high-drag rules package for the Sprint Cup Series this weekend. "It's definitely different," Crafton said after his first stint in the RPM No. 43. "A lot of it's unknown for them because of the new aero packages we have, so nobody knows anything about it. They thought the car would be tight, but I don't think everybody's fighting real tight right now. So, we'll keep working on it."
But RPM driver is shooting for a playoff-clinching win instead SPARTA, Ky. -- Aric Almirola was in a comfortable place this time last season. The No. 43 driver was on the heels of his first Sprint Cup Series win at Daytona International Speedway, a victory that locked him into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . The scenario looks much different for the No. 43 driver this year heading into Kentucky Speedway for the Quaker State 400 (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Winless in 2015 and ranked 16th in the standings, Almirola sits on the delicate bubble of making the Chase -- or falling just short. "We just need to run like we've been running," Almirola said Friday before the rain-shortened Sprint Cup Series practice at Kentucky. "We've got to execute and we've got to take advantage of everything we can. "We've got to be more consistent like we have been and run top 15, and we can't have any more mistakes from here to Richmond. We've got to finish races and can't have any DNFs. We've got to put pressure on some of the guys ahead of us in points to hope they make mistakes." Almirola's to-do list for the No. 43 team in the nine races before the Chase cut-off is long, but doesn't vary too much from what they've already been doing. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver currently boasts an average finish of 18.1 and nine top-15 results, including a fifth-place finish at Dover. His consistency alone has given him an opportunity to earn a spot in the Chase on points -- but a solidifying win would certainly ease the pressure for Almirola & Co. However, Victory Lane will be a tall order this weekend, as the rough-and-bumpy Kentucky isn't the easiest place to take the checkered. "Having the bumps be as aggressive as they are here, you have to run your car higher or else the car bottoms out a lot," Almirola said. "So with running the car higher it becomes a little bit more of a balance for the crew chiefs and engineers to get the car to ride across the bumps smoothly enough without being too harsh, but then to be able to get the car down and low to the race track in the corners, where it's not as bumpy. "The crew chiefs and engineers fight that and pull their hair out trying to figure out a good setup for here." Mother Nature has provided the teams with another hair-pulling situation, as rain has canceled and shortened practices for all three series since Wednesday. With limited practice sessions, the ever-growing possibility of "weepers" and the unknown of the new aero package that is debuting this weekend, Sprint Cup drivers will have their hands full come Saturday evening. Almirola isn't worried. "At the end of the day we're all professionals," Almirola said. "Race car drivers will get in anything and go drive it, so we'll adapt. That's what we do. We adapt to however the car is driving from weekend to weekend or whatever rules package we've got. I think it's important for the crew chiefs and engineers to get some laps and understand where their travels are gonna be, to understand how the car is gonna react to different changes compared to the different rules packages we've had in the past. "I'm anxious. I'm excited to go drive it and I'm excited to see how the race is gonna play out, to be honest with you. I know the hope is that we'll be able to race more side-by-side and pass each other, so I'm looking forward to seeing if that's the case." As Almirola and the No. 43 team work to earn their first win this season, they'll have the aid of a new sponsor: Armour Meats, a family brand of primary sponsor Smithfield Foods. The company will also host a sweepstakes in which a fan will win a trip for four to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Sprint Cup Series season finale. Click here to enter for a chance to win. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule