Wednesday, May 08, 2013 3:54 pm
Aric Almirola looks for another top-10 finish
By JENNA FRYERAP Auto Racing Writer
Aric Almirola has a chance this weekend at Darlington Raceway to end the drought.
Almirola goes into Saturday night's race with four consecutive top-10 finishes. Should he knock down another one at Darlington, it would be the mark most consecutive top-10 finishes for the Petty-owned No. 43 since Richard Petty had seven in a row in 1983.
"We sure are on a roll lately," said Almirola, who began this streak with a seventh-place finish at Texas last month. He then added a pair of eighth-place finishes at Kansas and Richmond.
Now Almirola is a surprising seventh in the Sprint Cup in the standings - the highest any Richard Petty Motorsports team has ranked after 10 races. Petty won his seven titles when the team operated as Petty Enterprises.
Almirola said he believes he and crew chief Todd Parrott have seen this surge in performance coming since a strong close to the 2012 season that began with a fourth-place finish at Martinsville. From there, Almirola didn't finish lower than 16th.
"I think we are the only people that aren't surprised we are seventh in points and have the longest current top-10 streak in the series," said Almirola. "Todd, the guys and I are really clicking. We worked hard over the offseason to maintain our momentum, and it worked. We just need to keep it up and start moving to top-fives and hopefully a win soon."
Almirola was 19th last year at Darlington in his first visit to the South Carolina track with RPM, and acknowledged NASCAR's oldest superspeedway is one of the toughest he's raced.
"Last year, I felt like I learned a lot during the race and got into a good rhythm by the end," he said. "We had a decent finish for my first time out and only a few `Darlington stripes.' Todd has a great track record here, so I should be able to feed off of his experience. Obviously, our goal is to get another top-10 finish, but we are really eyeing Victory Lane.
"I think if we can put ourselves in a good position during the majority of the race, we can have a good shot at getting the 43 its first win since 1999."
AIR TITAN: NASCAR chairman Brian France last year asked his engineers to develop a faster system for drying tracks.
The result was the Air Titan, which was used widely for the first time last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. It rained Saturday before the start of the Nationwide Series race and midway through the Sprint Cup race on Sunday.
"We're pleased with the Air Titan's first official on-track results," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations. "This was a great collaboration between NASCAR, our top-tier vendors and the Talladega track services staff."
O'Donnell estimated Air Titan shaved off a minimum of one hour of drying time both days.
"We ran the system while it was still raining to stay ahead of the weather and also ran it twice each day, successfully drying the track only to see more rain after we'd gotten it dry," he said. "We were able to minimize the drying time for both races so that our fans saw exciting finishes on the scheduled days of the events instead of being forced to alter their plans due to postponements."
The Air Titan uses compressed air to push water off of the racing surface and onto the apron, where vacuum trucks remove the moisture. Jet dryers follow each Air Titan to dry any excess water that remains on the racing surface. It worked at Talladega, NASCAR's largest track, despite cold temperatures.
The Air Titan was tested at Daytona in February, and used briefly at Martinsville in April.
STRONG RUN FOR SERVIA: With his IndyCar season potentially coming to an end this month if sponsorship isn't found, Oriol Servia delivered a strong performance in Brazil to put the spotlight on Dreyer & Reinbold's plight.
The team owners informed the Spaniard after Long Beach last month they planned to close the team following the Indianapolis 500 without more funding. A formal announcement came last week.
Servia went to Brazil and picked his way through the field, at one point passing Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan to move into second place behind Marco Andretti. A caution following his final pit stop dropped him to 11th, but Servia advanced to fifth on two restarts and passed Josef Newgarden in the final corner to finish a season-best fourth.
"We had to go through the field twice and still finished fourth," Servia said. "I really thought we had a podium. Really, we had a car to win. We have worked so hard to have the car and the team we have. We are contenders. We just announced that we need to find more sponsorship to continue after Indy, but I'm very happy. We are working well, we are doing our jobs right, and something good is going to happen."
TRY IT AGAIN: NHRA returns to Atlanta Dragway this weekend to complete the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals after rain washed out the event a week ago.
The two-day race weekend resumes Friday with two qualifying sessions, and eliminations are Saturday.
"Having rain postpone us really hurts because we want to race," said 15-time NHRA champion John Force. "It is what we do. We want to hear the roar of the crowd. I hope all the fans come back Friday for qualifying and then the race on Saturday. We will put on a great show and I am looking to go rounds."
Top Fuel driver Morgan Lucas, who earned his first career victory at Atlanta Dragway in 2009, said a win Saturday would become a very special present for his mother, Charlotte, who sometimes competes in NHRA's Super Comp category.
"It's going to be a unique opportunity for all of us to try and win a Wally as a Mother's Day gift," said Lucas. "We'll come back with the same positive attitude and try to win some rounds."