Almirola meets with NASCAR officials at Bristol
BRISTOL, Tenn. – NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Aric Almirola and crew chief Trent Owens met with NASCAR officials after the completion of Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway . The post-race meeting was at the sanctioning body's request. Almirola and Owens met with officials to discuss a Lap 437 accident involving the Richard Petty Motorsports driver, Austin Dillon ( Richard Childress Racing ) and Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing ). Almirola's No. 43 Ford eventually came to rest after being struck by the Truex entry. But rather than drop his window net to signify that he was not injured, Almirola apparently no longer had reverse gear in his car and wanted a push from the emergency crew. Almirola eventually finished 34th. He and Owens and others that met with officials left without commenting to the media. NASCAR officials would only say that the reason for the meeting was the driver's "failure to follow proper protocol following his incident on the track."
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Confident Almirola eyes return to the Chase
With a strong close to his 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series campaign, Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola carries an infectious confidence heading into the 2016 season. The goal for the year is simple: Make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after narrowly missing the elimination-style postseason in 2015. "Every single guy on my race team's got a fire in their belly to go get started in 2016," Almirola said during last month's Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour. "And that's our only goal again, no matter how we do it, whether it's win a race, do it on points, whatever it is, we want to make the Chase and we feel like we're going to." Almirola made the Chase in 2014 thanks to his July win at Daytona International Speedway , and that postseason appearance "made us extremely hungry," the driver of the No. 43 Ford said. "It's like a kid. You give them one piece of candy, they always ask for a second." The 31-year-old Florida native achieved the best average finish (17.9) of his career in 2015 and opined that "2015 was even more successful" for the team based on the consistency of performance. "We set top-15 finishes as the goal and we had a board in my office that had an orange line on it and asked Aric to try to stay above it each week and he did a good job with that," Sammy Johns, the director of operations at RPM said. After a season in which Almirola scored top 15s in half of the 36 races, Johns wants to step that target up slightly. "We are going to move that up to top 12s, but we definitely want to see more top 10s, more top fives. ... I think Aric is ready to get to Victory Lane more often as a driver," Johns said. Giving the team even more confidence is the strong finish that Almirola and crew chief Trent Owens put together to close out 2015, with two top fives and five of his six top 10s in the season's final 11 races. An expanded partnership with Smithfield Foods, who will serve as a primary sponsor for 31 races in 2016, also adds a little spring to the team's step. "We were caught disappointed with not making the Chase, so we got the group of guys together and said, 'Let's try to be that best car that's not in the Chase,' " Owens said. "So it was real good to see the team gather around and put their heads down and we had some of our better runs toward the end of the season. We've got to maintain that." The Almirola- Owens pairing is entering its third season, and the familiarity between the two brings a level of comfort that only seems to be getting stronger. "It's nice to hear the same voice on the radio," Almirola said. "I've got a really unique relationship with Trent . We're friends away from the race track but at the race track, we're fierce competitors and we want to compete. He's so talented at what he does that he's probably one of the first crew chiefs that I honestly, I don't even talk shop with and setup or stuff like that with him on a regular basis. "I show up to the race track and I have full confidence in him and trust what he comes up with for setups, trying to make the cars faster that it honestly takes that worry away from me. I just worry about the race track we're going to and my driving style at that race track and what we need to do from the previous time we were there." For Owens , it's the subtle understanding of how things are communicated that helps the duo navigate their way during the season. "Going into a third season, all the little … the tone of voices and all that stuff, you start to understand how big an adjustment or how little adjustment you need to make. I feel like I know him very well as a driver," Owens said. "On paper, we should have our best season in '16. As we all know in racing, you got to have luck before you have anything. So if we can just have a little bit of luck, I do think the relationship he and I got right now is as good as any in the garage."
RPM names Heroy as crew chief for Scott
RELATED: See all the drivers and crew chiefs on the move in 2016 Richard Petty Motorsports announced Wednesday that Chris Heroy will take the reins as crew chief for the No. 9 Ford and rookie driver Brian Scott in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next season. Heroy has served as crew chief for Chip Ganassi Racing 's No. 42 Chevrolet for the past four years, two each with drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Larson . The 38-year-old -- nicknamed "Shine" (short for "sunshine") for his easygoing demeanor -- was previously the lead engineer for Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 team. Heroy has netted 14 top-five finishes and three Coors Light Pole Awards in 144 Sprint Cup appearances as a crew chief. He'll work alongside former colleague Trent Owens , currently the crew chief for the No. 43 Ford and driver Aric Almirola . "I'm really excited to join the team," Heroy said in a release provided by RPM. "I really enjoyed working with Kyle (Larson) for his rookie season, and I'm looking forward to working with Brian as he works toward the Rookie of the Year title. This team has done a great job building consistency over the past year and continuing their winning tradition is a top priority, and I believe we can accomplish that this season. "I'm excited to work with Trent as well. We worked together when Kyle was racing for both Ganassi and Turner Scott. I think we will work well together, and we can get Richard Petty Motorsports to Victory Lane." Scott, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate for next season, was announced last week as the Petty team's replacement for Sam Hornish Jr ., who parted ways with RPM after one season in the No. 9 ride. Drew Blickensderfer began last year as crew chief for the No. 9 Fusion, ceding that role in May to Kevin "Bono" Manion for the rest of the season. The 27-year-old Scott, a NASCAR XFINITY Series regular the past six seasons, has 17 starts in NASCAR's top division over the last three years. He won his only Coors Light Pole Award in May 2014 at Talladega Superspeedway .
Almirola hopes late-season momentum carries over
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Post a couple of top-10 finishes and folks call it a coincidence. String several together, however, and it begins to look like a trend. That's what NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Aric Almirola is counting on these days. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver has posted four top-10 finishes in his last five outings, including a pair of top-five results. Almirola, 31, enters Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 (2:15 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM) at Kansas Speedway having failed to qualify for this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . But he's not out of contention for possible race wins. His recent efforts in the familiar No. 43 Ford have told him as much. A fourth at Richmond, 10th at Chicagoland, fifth at Dover and 10th again at Charlotte with only a 43rd-place finish at New Hampshire marring an otherwise consistent string of finishes. So do Almirola and his team see the competitive turn as a trend? "I do," he said Friday just before qualifying got underway. "I feel like we've really hit on some stuff that's really working for me, the cars have been driving good, we've had real good long-run speed for the last six weeks and that's paid off for us. "We still have to work on our cars to find some short-run speed, and really run some fast laps but ... the way our cars have been racing has been really good. I think we're on to something." Although he narrowly missed qualifying for the 10-race Chase, Almirola sits 17th in points -- highest among those who failed to earn one of this year's 16 berths. He finished 11th at Kansas when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visited the 1.5-mile track earlier this season. Talladega, Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead round out the remaining races on this year's Sprint Cup schedule. "You hope it's a trend, right?" said crew chief Trent Owens . "Recently I think we've gotten maybe just a little bit more speed in our cars. It's not necessarily one thing I'm doing. "I think we were really bummed we didn't get in the Chase because we felt like we were in all year. We felt like we did what we were supposed to do to earn a spot on points if we didn't win. We had an unfortunate engine situation at Pocono, and a crash at Indy. ... A couple of events just put us out." Darlington, where Almirola finished 11th, was good even though it was with an aerodynamic package that won't be used again until 2016. At Richmond "we put our best effort in there," and scored a top-five, Owens noted. That momentum carried over into a test at Kansas where he said the team "found a few items that might help our cars on the mile-and-a -halves." Chicago was solid as was Charlotte, where the team had struggled. "That kind of said, 'yeah, we might be doing the right thing,' " said Owens . Beyond the Team Penske entries of 2012 champion Brad Keselowski (one win) and teammate Joey Logano (four wins), the 2015 season hasn't been particularly memorable for many of those in the Ford camp. Roush Fenway Racing failed to place one of its three teams in the Chase for the first time since the format debuted in 2004. And Sam Hornish Jr ., Almirola's teammate, has only three top-10 results on the year. Almirola's improved finishing positions have yet to include a surge in leading laps -- he's led only three all season. But he knows his team is getting better each week. "Honestly, you just compare yourself to the competition, right? And I think even the best car in the field probably has some issues. He's probably a little tight in the center or what have you," Almirola said. "But he's doing it running faster than everyone else. ... "I think relative to the competition we have improved the handling of our cars and the way our cars are performing ... during race conditions." The simple answer, Owens said, is that the team needs faster race cars to lead laps and to "get to that next level." "If you asked someone to name the race teams in order, we are a middle-of-the-road race team when you talk about people size, money, resources," he said. "It's hard to make that jump all the way to first. You can make that jump from 20th to 10th. But to get to fifth and to get to first, dominate races and lead laps, that's a pretty big step, not just people-wise, but money-wise and resources." Almirola will start 23rd Sunday. It's been 48 races since his last, and so far only, victory in the Sprint Cup Series. Progress has come slowly. But expectations are rising for Almirola and everyone on the team. "When you go through a stretch where you run 20th and you just can't seem to find the speed, every weekend you go to the airport and you're ... not necessarily excited but you're kind of hopeful," he said. "It's like, 'I'm not sure if Santa is real, but I hope he is.' "Then when you start running good, you get excited to get on the plane on Thursdays and go to the race track because you've got some momentum on your side. "You feel like you're just maybe a few small things away from being able to go up there and compete to win races."
Third time not a charm for Truex Jr.
Leads most laps for third straight race, but still no wins DOVER, Del. -- For the third straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, Martin Truex Jr . led the most laps, and for the third straight race he failed to win. But Truex left Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway not chafing with disappointment after missing an opportunity in a potential race-winning car—as had been the case last week at Charlotte—but miffed at fourth-place finisher Kasey Kahne for closing the door on the final restart. With nowhere to go in the inside lane, Truex finished sixth after leading a race-high 131 laps. “I was inside him, and he ran me down on the apron,” Truex said. “So I either had to let off or wreck all of us. We had a good car today but it was never right. We were never right yesterday all through practice. “We made some changes today and we made some gains on it, but never really got it where we needed it. Clean air was huge. When we were out front, we were OK. It just never turned good all day long. It just eventually caught up to us.” Kahne, understandably, had a different view of the green-white-checkered-flag restart. “He was back behind me to get a run on me, obviously; the spotter said I was clear, so I just went to the bottom getting into (Turn) 1,” Kahne said. “I think he was a little upset. He gave me a bump after the race. But I don’t know. I didn’t really know what else to do other than to go there with guys on my outside and stuff. “But we had a pretty good car. We made good adjustments. The guys did a nice job. I wanted more. We had a nice package, but just didn’t pull it off.” ALMIROLA GETS HARD-EARNED FIFTH-PLACE FINISH How bad was the handling of Aric Almirola ’s car early in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race? So bad that he twice went a lap down early in the race. But Almirola also got two “lucky dogs,” free pass to the lead lap as the highest-scored lapped car, and he spent the rest of the race making the most of his second chances, posting a season-best fifth-place finish in his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. The critical factor was Almirola’s ability to stay infront of leader Kevin Harvick before a wreck involving Brian Scott and Kyle Busch brought out the fifth caution on Lap 376. “I earned my money today, that is for sure,” Almirola said. “This Smithfield Ford Fusion was a handful most of the day. It started off extremely tight. (Crew chief) Trent Owens and the guys made really good adjustments on the car, and got it better and better. Finally we weren’t the lucky dog -- we raced and stayed on the lead lap, and when the caution came out, we got a chance to restart with the leaders. “That was the big break for us. Every time we would get the lucky dog I had to start dead last and 30-40-50 laps the leaders were right back on me. It was a great day for us, a really good points day for us. I’m proud of Trent Owens and all the guys at Richard Petty Motorsports . They have been working their guts out trying to bring better cars to the race track week in and week out.” KYLE BUSCH’S UPHILL BATTLE JUST GOT HARDER Kyle Busch ’s run toward the top 30 in points suffered a serious setback on Sunday when contact from Brian Scott ’s Chevrolet sent Busch’s Toyota into the outside wall in Turn 3 on Lap 376 of a scheduled 400. Busch was running fourth at the time and made a move to pass Scott on the inside. Unaware the No. 18 Toyota was below him, Scott turned into Busch’s car. The mea culpa, however, can’t undo the damage to Busch’s hopes of finishing in the top 30 in the standings 13 races hence. Since Busch missed the first 11 races of the season after breaking his right leg and left foot in a Feb. 21 accident at Daytona, he must win one of the next 13 races and finish in the top 30 in points to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . “This is a shame,” Busch said. “This isn’t what we need, and we weren’t going to win today, but it doesn’t help when you finish 40th.” Actually, Busch was credited with a 36th-place result, but he leaves Dover 168 points out of 30th place, needing an approximate average of 15th place over the next 13 races to have a realistic shot at the top 30. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Reactions to Jeff Gordon's win at Martinsville
RELATED: Recap the race at Martinsville " Chase bubble watch post-Martinsville Jeff Gordon won Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway , his first victory of the season and his ninth career at the .526-mile oval. Doing so clinched a spot in the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway and ensures, in his final full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Gordon will enter the finale in championship contention. Here's how NASCAR Nation reacted: Seeing @JeffGordonWeb win today was the highlight of the 2015 NASCAR season. #respect — Tony Stewart (@TonyStewart) November 1, 2015 Congrats @JeffGordonWeb , crew chief Alan Gustafson, and all of @TeamHendrick on a win @MartinsvilleSwy and a shot at the @HomesteadMiami — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) November 2, 2015 That is so freaking cool. Wow. — Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) November 1, 2015 What a win for @jeffgordonweb so much fight left in that 24 team. Can't wait to see them battle for the Championship in Homestead #unreal — Kasey Kahne (@kaseykahne) November 1, 2015 This is how we celebrate in our house @ErinEvernham pic.twitter.com/z0Kj9TDx9Z — ray evernham (@RayEvernham) November 1, 2015 Decent day for us at martinsville. Made too many mistakes towards the end of the race. So pumped for @JeffGordonWeb !!! — Kyle Larson (@KyleLarsonRacin) November 1, 2015 Chants of "thank you jeff" pouring out of this crowd! #Legend #Championship4 -JW — Miss Sprint Cup (@MissSprintCup) November 1, 2015 Congrats to @JeffGordonWeb and HMS on the win! Go get that championship! — Amy Reimann (@Amy_Reimann) November 1, 2015 That is a very cool win! Congrats to @JeffGordonWeb — Regan Smith (@ReganSmith) November 1, 2015 Might have been his last few years but it's cool to say I watched a legend growing up. Congrats JG. #HERO — Darrell Wallace Jr (@BubbaWallace) November 1, 2015 Cool to see @JeffGordonWeb win and make it to final round in @NASCAR Chase Championship. Great way to close out an incredible career. — Michael McDowell (@Mc_Driver) November 1, 2015 Why we all love our sport, all the fans staying for victory lane celebration! @MartinsvilleSwy great crowd today pic.twitter.com/VQ9zyj9E0W — Trent Owens (@wtrentowens) November 1, 2015 Tough ending to our good stretch of races but we will go get them in the next 3 starting at Texas. Pretty cool seeing @JeffGordonWeb win — Ricky Stenhouse Jr . (@StenhouseJr) November 1, 2015 It was cool seeing @JeffGordonWeb get a win at Martinsville in his last start there. — Austin Theriault (@AustinTheriault) November 1, 2015 As a long time fan and hero of mine. So badass to see @JeffGordonWeb win Martinsville and have a shot for his 5th at Homestead. Get it. — AJ Allmendinger (@AJDinger) November 2, 2015
Ryan Blaney asks 'American Idol' winner Trent Harmon 21 questions
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Blaney caught up with the 2016 'American Idol' winner Trent Harmon at Richmond International Raceway to ask him 21 questions.
Where the rubber meets the road
No. 43 Crew Chief Trent Owens explains how rubber build-up affects Dover International Speedway in this edition of the Mobil 1 Auto Tech Question of the Week.
New crew chief named for Aric Almirola
Richard Petty Motorsports picks Trent Owens to take over as crew chief for the No. 43