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!
Darrell Wallace Jr. topped the leaderboard in Thursday's opening session Final practice RELATED: Final practice results After posting the 10th-fastest speed in the opening practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway , Ty Dillon found a bit more momentum early in Thursday's final session, shooting to the top of the leaderboard at 181.068 mph in his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing ride. Opening practice leader Darrell Wallace Jr . continued to post fast lap times, using a high speed of 181.020 mph in his No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford to snag the second spot on the leaderboard. Dillon's Richard Childress Racing teammate Brendan Gaughan also found speed in the final practice, his 180.995 mph-lap qualifying him for the third-fastest speed in the field. The elder Dillon -- Austin Dillon -- had posted a top-five speed earlier in the day and continued his strong run in the final session with a high speed of 180.246 mph from his No. 33 Chevrolet to grab the fourth-fastest ranking. Rounding out the top five was Ryan Blaney , whose No. 22 Team Penske Ford whirled around the 1.5-mile oval at 179.033 mph. Sprint Cup Series veteran Kasey Kahne managed to find his way into the top 10 this session, recording a high speed of 177.288 mph in his No. 5 JR Motorsports ride to claim the sixth-fastest speed. Current series champion Chase Elliott managed to maintain a top-10 speed, maneuvering his No. 9 JR Motorsports ride at 177.784 mph for the final spot in the top 10. Coors Light Pole Qualifying is set for Saturday at 11:15 a.m. on FOX Sports 1. Practice 1 RELATED: Full practice 1 results Turning his first laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway in a XFINITY Series car this weekend Darrell Wallace Jr . experienced a stroke of beginner's luck on Thursday, soaring to the top of the leaderboard during opening practice for the Hisense 300 (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM). The Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate propelled his No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing ride at 180.536 mph around the 1.5-mile track early in the session to snag the top spot. Just behind Wallace was Sprint Cup regular Austin Dillon , who posted a high speed of 180.469 mph in his No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Dillon also will compete in Sunday's Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM). Richard Childress Racing 's Brian Scott (179.778 mph), current points leader and Roush Fenway Racing 's Chris Buescher (179.772 mph) and Joe Gibbs Racing 's Erik Jones (179.521 mph) completed the top five. Reigning XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott showed plenty of momentum during opening practice, recording the seventh-fastest speed in the field (179.027 mph) in his No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. Like Dillon, Elliott is also performing a double-header this weekend, as he looks to make his third Sprint Cup start as a part-time rookie for Hendrick Motorsports . The track was peppered with several Sprint Cup regulars during opening practice, all of whom will be competing in Saturday's Hisense 300 . The list included Kyle Larson (eighth-fastest), Denny Hamlin (ninth-fastest), 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick (13th-fastest), Kasey Kahne (14th-fastest) and Aric Almirola (18th-fastest). FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
NNS driver Aric Almirola thanks his team and sponsors for their help in winning fourth place in the 2011 Nationwide Series.
NNS driver Aric Almirola thanks his team and sponsors for their help in winning fourth place in the 2011 Nationwide Series.
Aric Almirola talks about being 8th in the NSCS points standings and what has atrrivuted to their success this season.
Edwards, Kenseth and more experience Chase woes RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota JOLIET, Ill. -- His broken No. 43 Ford parked in front of the team hauler, Aric Almirola climbed out of the window net with his afternoon finished 37 laps before he wanted it to. Team owner Richard Petty was there to great his driver, and 'The King' wore a smile. Almirola did not. At least not at first. After Petty put his arm around the driver's shoulders and pulled him in for a brief hug, Almirola was able to flash some whites. Meanwhile, his No. 43 team popped the hood and tried to diagnose a busted engine that had previously shown no problematic signs, and was in fact healthy enough for Almirola to be in sixth place when it suddenly let go following a pit stop. It all contributed to an aura that was equal parts desolation and optimism, with one of the biggest underdogs in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup balancing the feeling of knowing he was one of the best cars on the track with the reality that was his 41st-place finish. "Heartbroken I think is the easiest way to describe it," Almirola said, before saying in the next breath the team had "nothing to hang our heads about. We drove from 23rd up to the top 10, running sixth with just over 30 to go and it just wasn't meant to be. We will regroup and go to Loudon and Dover and try to be spectacular." The team will have to be. Following his four-point day, Almirola is last on the 16-driver Chase Grid with 2,007 points. He is 23 points behind 12th-place Carl Edwards . New Hampshire and Dover are the final two races of the Challenger Round, before the Chase field gets trimmed to 12 for the Contender Round. "We know we are capable of running in the top-10," Almirola said. "Everyone else might not think so, the rest of the world thinks we are underdogs and we will gladly accept that tag, but what we've shown today and these last two weeks is exactly what we are capable of. "We have to win. That is it. There is no other option. We have to go and figure out how we can win one of the next two races." Almirola and crew aren't the only ones looking for a win -- or the very least, to be in contention for a win -- following Sunday's postseason opener at Chicagoland Speedway . Here's who else ran into trouble, and what it meant for them: • Ryan Newman . Two laps down late in the race, Newman somehow rallied for a lead-lap finish and crossed the start/finish line in 15th place. A blown tire on Lap 99 necessitated two stops down pit road and put Newman 23rd as the final car on the lead lap. A tire rub on Lap 155 brought him down pit road again and put the No. 31 two laps down. "Find out why that tire started rubbing again and make sure it doesn't happen again, please," Newman said tersely over the radio. Three cautions in the final 35 laps were enough to get Newman back on the lead lap by virtue of being the beneficiary. He restarted 19th on Lap 259 and finished 15th. He is 13th in the standings, one point behind Edwards. • Carl Edwards. Edwards started third but finished 20th, thanks in part to a shredded tire that brought out the yellow flag on Lap 232. Even before that incident, though, Edwards simply had a slow No. 99 Ford. He consistently fell throughout the race and finished 20th, one lap down. "We had a flat tire and got fortunate that didn't hurt us," Edwards said. "Our day was not good. We've got to be a little faster and we have to continue to have good luck. For us to advance we are going to have to rely on other people making some mistakes." • Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch . Both of these drivers had the exact same error, and both recovered. On Lap 46, Busch spun entering pit road and lost lots of position. He also knocked over the commitment cone and had to serve a pass-through penalty, but later got back on the lead lap and finished eighth. Kenseth, too, took a solo spin when coming fast into pit road. His snafu was on Lap 148, but he rallied to finish 10th. "I'll never fault you for being aggressive," crew chief Jason Ratcliff said over the radio. Busch is ninth in the standings (2,039 points) and Kenseth is 10th (2,034 points). • Greg Biffle , AJ Allmendinger . Like Kenseth and Busch, these two had related issues. Unlike Kenseth and Busch, neither driver recovered. The problem? Being slow. Allmendinger continually used the word "hate" to describe his No. 47 Chevrolet over the radio, and Biffle's No. 16 Ford underscored that Roush Fenway Racing is still off on speed. Allmendinger finished 22nd and Biffle was 23rd, both two laps down. Allmendinger is 14th in the standings (2,025 points) and Biffle is 15th, four points behind him. No. Chase driver Issue 41 Kurt Busch Lap 46: Spun entering pit road 5 Kasey Kahne Two pit-road speeding penalties 4 Kevin Harvick Lap 70: Loose left rear tire 31 Ryan Newman Lap 99: Blown left rear tire 20 Matt Kenseth Lap 148: Spun entering pit road 2 Brad Keselowski Lap 183: Right front loose tire 99 Carl Edwards Lap 231: Blown left rear tire 43 Aric Almirola Lap 231: Blown engine MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
RPM driver shows gratitude to Ambrose for contributions to organization RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota LOUDON, N.H. -- Aric Almirola has plenty of pressure to perform the next two weekends to keep his Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason hopes alive. One thing he's scratched off the list of things to worry about -- the livelihood of his Richard Petty Motorsports team. Despite his last-place position in the 16-driver playoff, Almirola was almost all smiles Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway , two days after his team reaffirmed its commitment to remain a two-car operation in 2015. It's the sort of long-term vote of confidence in the wake of teammate Marcos Ambrose 's impending departure that can at least soothe some of the opening-round heartbreak that visited The King's famed No. 43 last weekend at Chicagoland. "It's really important," Almirola said. "You see most or all of the top teams in this sport are multi-car teams and that's important to have that resource of teammates and more information. I think any time you do things with just one person it becomes really easy to get stuck in your ways and not be able to see outside the box, but as soon as you get more information, more teammates, more heads thinking on the same thing, it opens your eyes to a lot of different opportunities as far as setups and people and ways to go about setting your cars up and processes in the shop. "So I think anytime something like this is going down, it's important for the guys and first and foremost for the guys at the race team to know that, 'Hey, you're OK, you're safe. We’re not shutting the car down. We're gonna have two cars and we're gonna go racing.' So that's first and foremost of the importance to let those guys know that they're OK, but on top of that for everything that we've built over the last four or five years to this point and being a winning race team and a Chase-contending race team, to let everybody know that's still our goal and we’re not backing down from that." Carrying over the status quo isn't necessarily the worst thing that could happen to a team that's seen its share of ownership changes over the years. Mergers and partnerships with principals such as Ray Evernham, Robert Yates and George Gillett made the team a cauldron of uncertainty throughout the previous decade as it shrank from a four-car conglomerate to a two-car stable, but the past three years have marked a period of relative stability in both the ownership and driver lineup. The smooth seas at RPM took on more than a ripple last weekend with Ambrose's announcement that he'd return to his native Australia, leaving Petty's No. 9 Ford with a prominent vacancy for 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage. While Almirola , who signed a three-year contract extension with RPM back in January, awaits the team's next chapter, he expressed his gratitude for Ambrose's legacy and lasting contributions. "He was there a year before me, so he was there at probably its darkest hour with the Gillett split and bankruptcy and Richard putting a lot of his own money to keep the team alive, and going from four cars down to two," Almirola said. "Marcos has seen a lot of that company and helped build it to where it is today, and I'm extremely appreciative of that because I get to reap the benefits of that. I feel like I was a big part of that, but I came in a year later. He's probably been one of the best teammates that I've ever worked with. He's such a fun guy and a lot of fun to be around, and he's an extremely good race car driver." For the shorter term, Almirola and Co. need to regroup -- and fast -- to make their imprint in the Contender Round, the next three-race cut in the new-look Chase. Reaching that goal means turning it on in this Sunday's Sylvania 300 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN) and following up strong the next weekend's race at Dover International Speedway. While Almirola said he didn't think he'd need a win-or-else approach over the next two races to advance, he also knows a repeat of the 41st-place finish outside the Windy City last weekend would be devastating. The Chicago setback hasn't stopped the 30-year-old from crunching the numbers to see how he'll avoid being one of the four eliminated drivers after Dover . "All the guys on my team and myself included know that we've got to go out and for our best shot -- without winning, for our best shot to transfer we have to run top-five the next two weeks," Almirola said. "There's no doubt about it and we've got to hope that the guys that are already down in points run 20th-25th. I think right now we're 23 points out of 12th, so if we run fifth and Carl (Edwards) runs 20th, that's 15 points and that puts us within seven going to Dover . That makes it a reality getting to Dover , but we've got to take a big chunk out here." While it's small consolation now, Almirola said that engine builder Doug Yates pinpointed the broken exhaust valve that caused his No. 43 car to go up in smoke just 37 laps from the finish last weekend, saying that similar trouble befell fellow Ford drivers Joey Logano at Kentucky and Ambrose at Atlanta earlier in the year. Almirola was heartened by the fact that it was just his first engine-related failure to finish in his three years with the Petty group, but that the timing of the misfortune could not have been worse. "Of all weekends for it to happen the first race of the Chase," Almirola said, "Why could it have not happened at Atlanta or Richmond or wherever else, but it is what it is. It just wasn't meant to be. The stars didn't line up right for us at Chicago, but we’ll rebound." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Drivers support decision to make Busch Chase eligible BUY: Rowdy Returns T-Shirt " RELATED: NASCAR grants Busch a Chase waiver NASCAR competitors testing at Dover International Speedway on Wednesday said they have no qualms with NASCAR granting fellow Kyle Busch a waiver that keeps his Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility intact. "We don't have sick days in our sport," six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson said during a lunch break at the 1-mile track. "If you get injured in our industry, the repercussions are so big. "Even though he is granted a waiver, you just look at what the team has been through – a couple of different drivers trying to develop the equipment and get it going, missed opportunities to win races. It's a huge penalty to have an injury. If you can come back and win a race, you deserve to be in the Chase." Busch, driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota, missed the first 11 points races after breaking his right leg and fracturing his left foot in a crash in the season-opening XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway . On Wednesday, NASCAR announced its decision to allow Busch to remain eligible, as long as he is in the top 30 in championship driver points standings following the season's 26th race. Busch announced on Tuesday that he would be back in the Sprint Cup car this weekend for Saturday's Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, PRN, Sirius XM NASCAR). MORE: Busch says All-Star event is 'perfect' for return Under the rules, to be eligible for the Chase drivers must attempt to complete in the 26 points races leading up to the Chase. The 16-team field is comprised of the season's winners and, if fewer than 16 drivers win at least one race, those highest in the points standings following the cutoff race. Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano ( Team Penske ) said, "It's not like he chose to skip races … that's the difference. "They don't want to see someone win a race and say 'alright, I'm good, I'm going to take four or five weeks off and enjoy it and not drive a race car.' … "Kyle is getting back in the car as soon as he possibly can to try to make the Chase. I think letting him do it is fine … that's the way it should be. It's not his fault he got hurt in the first place." The possibility that Busch wins one of the remaining 15 "regular-season" races isn't far-fetched. He has 29 career victories and has won one or more races for 10 consecutive seasons. Climbing his way into the top 30 in points is another matter. Busch would likely need an average finish of at least 16th or to find himself in the top 30 after 26 races. "I don't know what he has to do to get in the top 30," Logano said. "… I think it's well deserved; he's worked hard to get back in the race car and if we race him for a championship at the end of the year, great. I'm not going to say it he shouldn't have won it or something like that. "Those are the rules that we've got … with the Chase, that you're able to recover if something like that happens." David Ragan , who filled in for Busch in nine races, said the NASCAR announcement simply provided Busch an avenue to attempt to qualify. The rest will be up to the driver and the team, led by crew chief Adam Stevens. Ragan took over the reins of the car after Daytona (two-time Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton stepped in at DIS) while 18-year-old Erik Jones made his Sprint Cup debut last weekend at Kansas with the team. "He's just eligible, obviously," Ragan said of Busch. "He's still got to have a great season to make the Chase. He's got to win a race, which isn't easy to do, there are still a lot of good guys that haven't won a race in quite some time; he's got to score some pretty good points to get in the top 30. "I think NASCAR made the right call and Kyle should be happy with that; if he can meet that criteria and make the Chase, he deserves to be in. "If he can score those kind of points, be in the top 30 and win a race, (that's) a chase team and (he's) a Chase driver." • Johnson, Logano and Ragan were among 12 drivers taking part in the open test at Dover. Also on hand were Jamie McMurray ( Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates), Austin Dillon ( Richard Childress Racing ), Danica Patrick ( Stewart-Haas Racing ), Denny Hamlin ( Joe Gibbs Racing ), Casey Mears ( Germain Racing ), Greg Biffle ( Roush Fenway Racing ), Jeb Burton ( BK Racing ), Aric Almirola ( Richard Petty Motorsports ) and AJ Allmendinger ( JTG Daugherty Racing ). Logano, Hamlin, Patrick and Allmendinger took part in a two-day Goodyear tire test at Dover prior to Wednesday's team test. • Johnson said while Dover and Charlotte appear vastly different, there are things his Hendrick Motorsports team could pick up during the Wednesday test that might be beneficial at CMS. "We might not be able to learn and have the speed on the track today, but we'll go home with some ideas … some things that didn't work or did work and let our group at home stew on it," he said. "It'll help actually this weekend leading into Charlotte. Charlotte and Dover, oddly enough, do have very common sensations and loads and things through the race car. So this test … comes at a good time for us and we should be able to apply things to Charlotte." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Allgaier discusses cautions, Charlotte to have new tires and more NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Justin Allgaier says he understands the concern voiced about the timing of caution flags in the past two weeks, but said Tuesday from his team's shop in Spartanburg, South Carolina, that he has no issues with how the end of the races have been officiated. "Obviously if you are the car that everybody's screaming by, you're probably going to have a lot greater issue with it," the HScott Motorsports driver said. Two weeks ago at Talladega after Carl Edwards crashed on the final lap of the GEICO 500 , the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was critical of the lack of a caution flag being thrown for his incident as well as how others reacted after his No. 19 Toyota slid down onto the apron then shot back up on the racing surface. Several cars, including Allgaier's, were still at speed and with no caution being thrown shot past Edwards' out-of-control entry. "I saw the crash, and I've seen enough crashes in that regard with the way that it happened to know that they don't (normally) come back onto the race track," Allgaier said. "When I came into the sport, the answer was always lock it down and turn to the left, that was always the big deal. In my mind, and seeing what happened to Carl, I felt like the way the circumstances were playing out that that's what was going to happen." Edwards' teammate, Denny Hamlin , voiced similar concerns this past weekend after he was involved in a crash at Kansas Speedway . "I keep spinning out, I keep hitting the wall and I can't figure out why everyone is still coming at 200 (mph), and I look and the green light is still on," Hamlin said afterward. "They didn't throw a caution until seven seconds after I wrecked. Luckily nobody hit us. They'll continue to monitor the situation is what they'll say." On Monday, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR's executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said officials hoped to speak with Hamlin this week. Officials did throw the caution at Talladega when a multicar incident occurred just moments after Edwards' spin. "My spotter had already done a great job calling the wreck out, the back straightaway wreck had already happened, so obviously the attention had already moved to that because there were more cars involved," Allgaier said. "The first wreck was kind of buttoned up and we'd already kind of written it off. I think when I got there I wasn't at full speed by any means but I wasn't (going) 50 mph, either." On larger tracks such as Talladega where drivers often would have enough time to slow their cars before making their way back around to the scene of an incident, officials lean toward allowing the race to finish under green-flag conditions when it's the last lap of the race. If the crash is severe, then getting emergency vehicles dispatched to the scene takes precedence. If a crash brings out the yellow flag before the leader has taken the white flag (signifying one lap remaining), officials will make up to three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish. RELATED: NASCAR's racing flags and what they mean Allgaier says that's important for the fans. "I look at the IndyCar finishes that end under yellow. They had one earlier this year I think, and I think everybody would have loved to have seen it … finish under green. "For us, we get three attempts. If you can't figure out in three attempts, we probably don't need to finish it. But I feel like if I was a fan paying money to see a race, I'd like to see it end under green." New Right-Side Tires for Charlotte A Goodyear tire test in March has resulted in a change to the right-side tires for teams competing in this weekend's Sprint All-Star Race (May 16, 7 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM) as well as next weekend's Coca-Cola 600 (May 24, 6 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM). The new tire contains a multi-zone tread, according to Goodyear. The outboard 10 inches of the tire features the same compound used at Charlotte Motor Speedway last season. Aric Almirola ( Richard Petty Motorsports ), Kasey Kahne ( Hendrick Motorsports ), Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing ) and J.J. Yeley ( BK Racing ) participated in the tire test. The left-side tire is the same as that used in '14. Teams competing at CMS in Friday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series NC Education Lottery 200 (May 15, 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1 , MRN, SiriusXM) will use the same tire set-up as those in Sprint Cup . XFINITY Series teams competing this weekend in Iowa in the 3M 250 (May 17, 2 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM) will have the same left-side tire set-up as last season, but it will be paired with a new right-side configuration. Kansas Penalty Totals NASCAR officials meted out 30 penalties during the running of Saturday night's SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas, flagging teams most often for pitting before pit road was officially open. It's a common occurrence during events as teams typically hit pit road early to repair damage as soon as possible, knowing that the violation will result in re-starting the race at the back of the field. It's a loss of track position that, in most cases, they've already lost. J.J. Yeley and the No 23 team became the first to be penalized this season for pitting after already having taken the wave-around. The infraction occurred on Lap 100. The penalty was the loss of one lap. There have been 30 or more penalties handed down in seven of this year's 11 Sprint Cup races. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Aric Almirola predicts big things for Richard Petty Motorsports in the 2015 season.