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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
Get to know the newest Miss Sprint Cup RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated Hometown: "I'm from a small town in southern New Jersey called Haddon Township. It's so small, we don't even have our own post office. Steven Spielberg spent his childhood there and it's 15 minutes from Philadelphia, so everyone knows what movies we love and the sports teams we cheer for." Pets: "I grew up with an enormous black and white cat named Theo. He first came home during a Philadelphia 76ers game when Theo Ratliff played for them, so that's where his name came from." Favorite app: "I love Spotify. Reading a book while listening to different classic rock playlists on the Spotify app is one of my favorite pastimes." Must-see TV: "My current TV addiction is "Law & Order: SVU," but I also never miss an episode of "Game of Thrones" or "Homeland." " Music that moves me: "Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band always brings me back to my childhood visiting the Jersey Shore (no, the one I go to is not like the MTV show)." Movies not to be missed: "My favorite movies usually star Audrey Hepburn. My number one has to be "Funny Face" with her and Fred Astaire. The fashion, the songs, the dancing -- I love it all." Favorite websites: "Every morning I check out the Associated Press website to catch all the latest worldwide news, and I also regularly visit QVC online (I used to work there) to see the special values and new beauty products." Travel: "I love getting to travel all over the country as Miss Sprint Cup -- that's one of my favorite parts of the job. I also love visiting Italy. I took Latin for seven years, so the history there is fascinating for me." Habit I'd like to kick: "Spending money online. Maybe I should stop visiting the QVC website so much." Best vacation getaway: "Ocean City, New Jersey. I know it's not tropical, but my parents have a house there and it's one of my favorite places to relax." First race: " Dover International Speedway in 2011 when Matt Kenseth won." Biggest influence in my life: "My parents. They always encouraged me to go after my dreams and goals even when they were a little different. I am incredibly lucky to have such a supportive, strong family with my parents, my sister and my extended (38 first cousins) family." SUBSCRIBE NOW!
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Conti sweeps past Stergios and Overland as Hansen triggers a race-ending caution. Michael Conti pulled-off a surprising victory Round Seven of the 2014 NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series at Dover International Speedway Tuesday night, beating Chris Overland , PJ Stergios and Nick Ottinger on a restart with three laps to go. The win was Conti's second triumph in the last three in the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series events. With nine laps of sim racing remaining Conti appeared destined to finish no better than third as Ottinger and Joey Brown both passed him with 15 laps to go and were not struggling as much with their tires. Things changed drastically, however, when Brown spun off of Turn Four on Lap 191, bringing out the caution flag. Even though only three laps would remain in the race when the green flew again, most of the leaders decided to pit for tires due to the massive tire falloff. Two drivers, Stergios and Overland, decided to roll the dice and stay on the track. Ottinger was the first car off pit road with four new tires and lined up third with Conti on his outside in fourth, also on new tires. Both drivers hoped the front row would not spin their tires and that the race would stay green long enough to regain the lead. The restart saw both Stergios and Overland get away with minimal wheel spin; fairly surprising considering their tires had over 50 laps on them. Instead, it was Ottinger who spun his tires and nearly swerved into Conti. Ottinger's bobble gave Conti any lane he wanted in Turn One as he looked to overtake Stergios and Overland as quickly as possible. Conti chose the outside lane, hoping the two drivers in front would keep their cars near the bottom. The plan worked to perfection as Conti took the long way 'round, using his fresh rubber to make a sensational three-wide pass for the lead. And not a moment too soon: the yellow flew just a couple seconds later when Danny Hansen got spun around battling for fourth. With only three laps to go, the race ended under yellow, giving Conti a somewhat unexpected win. "What a finish!" said Conti, who moved into the series points lead with his victory. "(I) can't say the car was the best it could have been tonight, but it was good when it counted." Stergios finished second and Overland was third as the two just missed-out on pulling a big upset. Ottinger had to settle for fourth while Peter Bennett rounded-out the top five with a quiet but solid run. Tire management was critical from start to finish as drivers could only go about half a fuel run before their lap times literally fell off a cliff. Conti started on pole and jumped out to a comfortable lead, but as the run wore on his car developed a bad push while Ottinger and Brown stayed more consistent. About half the field chose to pit once their tires began falling off, but that move backfired when the caution flew for the first time on Lap 49. Normally this would not have been a big deal as the cars that pitted could take the wave-around and get their lap back, but at Dover cars commonly go two laps down while pitting. With only two cautions in the first 190 laps, the drivers trapped a lap down never had a chance to recover. Thus only 13 drivers finished on the lead lap, far lower than normal in the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series. The final run of the race before Brown's accident was the most interesting in terms of tire wear. Drivers knew they could not go the distance on fuel, but they had to balance pitting early to take advantage of fresh tires while risking being trapped laps down. Conti pitted a few laps before Ottinger and Brown and pulled out to a three second lead after the round of stops was complete. As the laps ticked down, Ottinger and Brown slowly started cutting tenths off of Conti's lead. By 20 laps to go, those tenths became closer to half a second as Conti's Chevy SS hit the tire performance cliff hard. In fact, he looked to be dead in the water as far as competing for the win before he was saved by the caution for Brown's spin. The win vaulted Conti into the championship lead. He leads Ottinger by eight points while Jake Stergios sits 16 points behind after a 13th place finish at Dover . Chad J Laughton fell to fourth after connection issues caused him to finish 32nd and Ray Alfalla is fifth despite finishing P19 after being trapped a lap down on the first round of pit stops With their visit to the fastest one mile track complete, the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze competitors shift gears as they look forward to another fast track up next on the schedule ? Michigan International Speedway . Long green flag runs at the wide and fast track are commonplace and it would not be surprising to see fuel mileage heavily influence the outcome. Look for Ottinger, Alfalla and Hansen to be strong as they ran up front all race earlier this season at Michigan's sister track, Auto Club Speedway . Will a familiar face make another trip to victory lane or will fuel mileage and unpredictable tire wear usher a new driver to victory lane? Be sure to catch all the action in two weeks' time on iRacing Live ! "What a finish! . . . (I) can't say the car was the best it could have been tonight, but it was good when it counted." ? Michael Conti
Alan Cavanna brings you Up To Speed as drivers prepare for the FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway .
Take a look back at the top 5 moments from the racing weekend at Dover International Speedway .
Kyle Busch wins the NNS race at Dover International Speedway making it his second win of the weekend.
NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton addresses the media about track repairs made during the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway .