This is a season of firsts for Aric Almirola. Prior to 2013, Almirola had never scored back-to-back top-10 finishes. Now, after finishes of seventh at Texas, eighth at Kansas and Richmond, and 10th at Talladega, he has four straight top-10 runs. And, by the way, his top 10s match his single-season career high.
Prior to 2013, he had never cracked the top 15 in points. Now, after those four straight top 10s, Almirola has catapulted up to seventh in the standings and is on his way to a possible berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Richard Petty Motorsports has only placed one driver in the Chase in its four-plus year history – Kasey Kahne in 2009. Kahne finished the year 10th in points.
Consistently, Almirola has shrugged off the pressures of running a car with the most iconic number in the sport’s history – so any outside intimidations shouldn’t be an issue. That No. 43 made famous by owner Richard Petty visited Victory Lane three times at Darlington, all with Petty. Almirola only has one start at Darlington, a 19th-place finish last year.
Paul Menard shares a lot in common with Almirola. They both have famous owners (Menard’s is Richard Childress), both are in prime position to make the 2013 “postseason,” and both have what most would call surprise seasons.
Coming into this season, Menard had been ranked in the top 10 after eight races during his entire career. In this season alone, he has ranked in the top 10 seven different times – including his current position of eighth. Menard has six starts at Darlington, with a best finish of 13th in last year’s Southern 500.