In six short days, the engines fire back up, and the quest to become the champion in the Sprint Cup Series once again takes full effect. The first official race may not be until February 21, but when teams take to Daytona this week to practice, and then qualify for the Daytona 500, the new year means new opportunities..
New drivers, new sponsors, new makes for familiar teams. It is the time for every team to start fresh. Every driver is tied in points, so there is nowhere to go but up. Some teams may not have as much to prove, although some have a much bigger target. In the end, the quest among everyone in the garage is the same: Win races, and win the championship.
Richard Petty Motorsports is again set for the new year, and once again it is a rebuilding season. More new blood is coming in, but also there are some changes within the organization, giving a fresh look for the 2016 campaign.
Let’s preview the RPM duo of drivers set to compete this year.
ARIC ALMIROLA: No. 43 Smithfield Ford
The 2015 season was a ho-hum experience for a driver who had just signed an extension with RPM the prior season. Almirola had struggles through the entire season, yielding only three top-fives and six top-10’s. His average finish improved from the prior season, going to 17.9 from 21.4 the prior year. At the same time, his average start decreased down to 22.4.
However, he was able to drastically improve his time on the track by finishing 34 of the 36 races in the season.
Entering the third year of his multi-year contract, this is a key season for the No. 43 driver. This could potentially extend his already lucrative deal with RPM, or potentially cause the team to look for another driver in the flagship car.
There is still a lot of desire in Almirola, and he enjoys being the lead driver for “The King.” He still has his first career win with this team, although as has been the case with other drivers like Joey Logano and David Reutimann, that win came because the race never saw the full distance. Some may feel he needs to actually make the full distance and take a victory to validate that win in 2014.
It could come this year, if things fall in the right places.
BRIAN SCOTT: No. 44 Twisted Tea Ford
It seems that the RPM organization is constantly in a state of change. Back in 2010 it changed from Dodge to Ford, and saw one of their drivers get terminated before the end of the season. It would then go from four teams to just two the following year.
In 2014, one driver left and a new one was signed on for the following year. Now, it’s a true case of deja vu for this team, but it’s not just a driver change.
Prior to the new year, RPM revealed that Brian Scott would take over as the new driver for RPM. Already having great success in the Xfinity Series for both Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing, this will be the first full season for Scott in Cup competition.
Along with the new driver, the team is making a major change in it’s look, as coming back in the RPM fold is the No. 44, previously driven by Richard’s son, Kyle. That number has long been considered “Kyle’s number” because of his time driving it from 1997 through 2000. It has always been remembered for it being the number when Petty was at the wheel of the Hot Wheels Pontiac during that time.
With RPM now having the Petty numbers back in the sport, it seems the team is embracing the future by honoring it’s past. Now Scott has the opportunity to etch his own legacy in a Petty number.
RPM will get some early track time on Saturday night as Almirola is one of the 25 drivers that will run in the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race at Daytona. Race is set to go green at 8:15 p.m. Almirola will start 17th.