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Almirola in at Richard Petty Motorsports
4 January 2012
Aric Almirola has signed to race with Richard Petty Motorsports in 2012, following last month's decision by AJ Allmendinger to move to Penske Racing.
Almirola will drive the team's #43 entry, and will be racing alongside his new RPM team mate Marcos Ambrose in a full-time deal for 2012.
"This is the first real opportunity I've had to drive in the Cup Series full-time," said Almirola, who has 35 Cup series starts to his name but had to settle for competing in the Nationwide Series in 2011 for Dale Earnhart Jr's JR Motorsports operation in the #88.
"One of the things I am most excited about is to have the chance to drive a car as iconic as the #43," said Almirola. "There is so much history surrounding that number and to have my name above the door will be really special for me.
"Last year the #43 team had a lot of speed and was competitive on a weekly basis. Greg Erwin is a great crew chief and I'm excited to work with him. Everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports has a lot of enthusiasm and drive and I'm really looking forward to getting to work."
"We are thrilled to welcome Aric Almirola into the RPM family," Richard Petty said. "We felt Aric would be the best fit for the team and for our current and potential partners ... We are really confident in his potential as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. We think Aric has all the makings to be the next bright star in our sport."
The 27-year-old Florida native's last Cup race was the 2012 season finale, in which he sealed a career-high fourth-place when he took the wheel of the RPM #9 car after Kasey Kahne was released early from his contract with the team.
Almirola made his NASCAR national début in 2005 in the Truck Series and moved into Nationwide racing the following year driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. He moved to Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2008 to run a part-time Cup season before returning to Truck competition and finishing as runner-up in 2010. He finished in fourth place in the 2011 Nationwide series.
Almirola will be replacing AJ Allmendinger, who opted to move to Penske Racing in the face of mounting speculation that RPM were seeking to replace him a big name driver like Kurt Busch in order to boost hopes of retaining existing primary sponsor Best Buy. That strategy did not work out for RPM, with Busch opting to sign instead with Phoenix Racing and Best Buy taking its money to Roush Fenway Racing, leaving the team seeking both a new driver and a new main sponsor.
While today's signing takes care of the former issue, no new sponsorship has been announced for the #43 although Almirola is expected to have sponsorship from Smithfield Food and the US Air Force.
The announcement of Almirola's appointment is another blow to David Ragan, who is still seeking a replacement drive after himself being ousted from Roush Fenway at the end of 2011. Ragan is now thought to be one of the contenders to take over Almirola's seat in the #88 in the Nationwide Series, although the current favourite for the seat is believed to be Red Bull development driver Cole Whitt.
In other Nationwide series news, it was announced on Tuesday that Kasey Kahne will drive in 15 races in the #38 Turner Motorsports car, with rookie Brad Sweet taking the wheel for the remaining 18 races of the 2012 season.
"Turner Motorsports is a first-class organization with equipment capable of contending for wins week in and week out," a news release quoted Sweet as saying. "I don't think I could be in a better position to take the next step in my racing career."
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