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NASCAR Season Preview: Aric Almirola

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#43 Smithfield Foods/US Air Force Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports

Born: March 14, 1984

Home: Tampa, Florida

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Driving full-time for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, Almirola finished fourth in series points with 18 top 10 finishes. His best stretch of the year came in July and August, where he scored four consecutive top five finishes starting at Loudon.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: In his best full-time opportunity yet in NASCAR, Almirola failed to score a race win; his lone victory in Nationwide remains the controversial 2007 Milwaukee event where he was replaced mid-race at a sponsor request.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Almirola, the closest thing to a “super-sub” in NASCAR for the past few years, continues the trend of bouncing around that has defined his career for years. This time, he bounces from JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series back up to Sprint Cup and Richard Petty Motorsports, for whom he drove a handful of races in 2010 in replacing Kasey Kahne. This time around, though, he’ll drive the #43, replacing the departed A.J. Allmendinger, now at Penske Racing.

What Almirola inherits, besides the responsibility of representing a famous name and number with little connection to its storied past, is a top-20 team that is still waiting for its big breakthrough. They could never score a win with Allmendinger, but it seems a stretch to think that they suddenly will with Almirola. He hasn’t been a full-time Sprint Cup driver yet, hasn’t really won all that much at the national level, and may have had his growth stunted just a little by hopping from team to team so frequently. With that being said, this team could end up anywhere from 15th to 30th in points at the end of the season, because we just don’t know what we’re going to get yet.

– Chris Leone

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