In just under a month, 43 cars will make the first pace laps of 2013 at the Daytona International Speedway. On February 24, the first green flag of the Sprint Cup season will wave, beginning a journey that covers 10 months of the year and all four directions of a compass.
That time of year is fast approaching, and soon all eyes will be on the World’s Center of Speed as preparations are already ongoing in getting set for the 55th Annual Daytona 500.
New cars, new rules, new teams and new expectations are among the biggest headlines heading into the new season, but some teams are just hoping to build on what happened one year ago. Richard Petty Motorsports has been on the rebuild for the last three years, going from four teams down to just two, and changing drivers between 2011 and 2012.
Now, as Petty sees his sixth generation of stock cars hit the track, his duo of drivers are ready to make another splash on the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour. Unlike entering last year, both drivers from one year ago are back where they signed, and are teamed with familiar faces in the garage.
It only means higher expectations the second time around, but if history is true, things only get better with time. Here’s a preview of the 2013 line-up for Richard Petty Motorsports:
Marcos Ambrose: No. 9 Dewalt Tools/Stanley Ford Fusion
Last season could in a way be considered a mirror image of 2011 for the lead driver at RPM. NASCAR’s resident Australian had a very strong year in his second tenure behind the wheel of the No. 9 Ford. Ambrose had in one way an off-year if going by stats, one win, three top-fives, eight top-10’s and four DNF’s.
But, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t competitive. Ambrose was consistently near the top-10 or top-15 each week, just having some bad luck go his way to result in unfortunate finishes.
No race stood out more than when he won for the second straight season at Watkins Glen. The way the race ended, with Kyle Busch spinning, oil on the track, and the battle alongside eventual Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski was voted the best race of the 2012 season.
Ambrose is already getting seat time as he’s competing in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, so his racing season is already under way.
The man nicknamed the “Tasmanian Devil” may not provide all the twists and kick up as much dust as the famous Looney Tune, but there is no doubt that Ambrose will make sure his third year at RPM is one he will remember.
Aric Almirola: No. 43 Smithfield Foods Ford Fusion
The newest shoe at RPM one year ago was one that was on the radar by Petty himself for a while. Almirola was competing in the Nationwide Series under JR Motorsports, and caught the eye of Petty as a potential talent.
Already having some Cup experience, and with former driver A.J. Allmendinger signing with Penske Racing, the opportunity was there.
For a first year driver, Almirola made a relatively good showing for himself. He recorded no wins, only one top-five and four top-10’s. But when his car was good, he made sure fans knew it.
His run at the second Kansas event was proof that if Almirola had a strong car, he could win a race. That day he admitted it was the best race car he’d ever driven in his entire career. Had it not been for a flat tire, there was a strong possibility the No. 43 would have returned to victory lane.
There is hope of not seeing a sophomore slump by Almirola, but having only a one-year deal signed after last year, performance will be key to signing for a longer deal.