Aric Almirola opened this season driving Earnhardt Ganassi Racing's #8 in the first seven Sprint Cup races before a lack of sponsorship forced the team to park the car.

Almirola was idle for two months before getting back on track in the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series, where he'll make his second start of 2009 in Saturday's Kroger 200 at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis.

"Everybody knew after the Texas Cup race I was looking for something to race," Almirola said. "I really wanted to be in a car, and I was fortunate enough to get a call from Curtis Key. He had an opportunity for me to run some races. I went over there and looked at his cars and agreed to do it."

Almirola finished eleventh at Milwaukee in his previous Nationwide start in Key's #40 Chevrolet. Scott Wimmer is the team's regular driver, and he's in the #5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet at ORP.

"We're bringing the same car we had at Milwaukee to ORP, and I think we'll have a good car," Almirola said.

Almirola says ORP's 0.686-mile track is his favourite, and it's also a place where he has experience with four starts, two in the truck series and two in Nationwide. Almirola finished sixth in the Nationwide race in 2007.

"I don't know what it is or why, but when I show up at the racetrack there, I feel like I know what I want and need in the car or truck," Almirola said. "I have a really good feel for the racetrack. It's a lot of fun to race on. You can pass, you can run two, even three-wide. I don't feel like you can get bottled up behind anyone.

"It's a racer's race-track, a little bullring, flat-out, side-by-side racing. It's unlike any other racetrack that we go to on the NASCAR circuit."

Almirola will drive for Billy Ballew Motorsports in Friday's truck race at ORP. He has had four starts for Ballew this year and has finished fourth and fifth in the past two races.

"Between the truck and the Nationwide car, we've got a great shot to run well and if things go our way, we might end up in victory lane," Almirola said.

Almirola, 25, joined Joe Gibbs Racing's diversity programme in 2004 and made his debut in the truck series in 2005. He later moved to Ginn Racing and to Dale Earnhardt Inc. following their merger. Almirola was retained when DEI merged with Ganassi last winter, and he remains under contract to the organisation.

Almirola has raced steadily in NASCAR's national series since 2005, a total of 90 starts -- 25 in Cup, 28 in Nationwide and 37 in trucks -- going into this weekend. It was a shock to his system to find himself rideless in April.

"I've definitely appreciated every opportunity, but you really learn how fortunate you are when you've had something and it's taken away," Almirola said. "When you're not racing anymore, it's not a good feeling. This year has taught me a lot of lessons, and I'm a better person for it. I never did before, but I definitely will never take any opportunity for granted."

by Tim Tuttle and Bill Marx