Richard Petty Motorsports Earns Top-15 Finish at Southern 500
Richard Petty Motorsports Earns Top-15 Finish at Southern 500
CONCORD, N.C. (April 13, 2014) - It's the most challenging race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, the Southern 500 at the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. It’s a grueling 500-mile race on an egg-shaped oval that begins under the sun and ends under the lights. A track condition that changes aggressively throughout the night, it puts each driver and crew chief to the test.
Drew Blickensderfer, leader of the No. 9 DEWALT Ford team, proved why he is one of the best leaders atop a pit box in the sport. A race where Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) Fords were not as fast as they had qualified, Blickensderfer made late-race calls that ensured RPM its seventh Top-15 finish this season when Marcos Ambrose finished 14th. A spin by Aric Almirola slowed any chance of a late-race Top-15, but instead gained positions at the end to finish 24th.
As RPM heads to its first weekend off, the team has a total of three Top-Five finishes and four Top-10 results. Marcos Ambrose is 17th in points and Aric Almirola is 24th.
A highlight of each team’s day follows:
Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 DEWALT Ford
After starting fourth Saturday night, Ambrose, Blickensderfer and the No. 9 DEWALT Ford fought through an ill-handling car to use fast pit stops, composure and some pit savvy to finish 14th in the 65th Southern 500.
Although it was one of the best starts for Ambrose, his car lacked grip early in the event when the sun was up and fell back to 16th. As the sun went down, the car continued to lack rear grip, and Ambrose tried to stay on the lead lap. After 100 laps, Ambrose was back in 27th and eventually moved a lap down. Instead of panicking, the team worked on the car.
The No. 9 DEWALT Ford went through a series of changes directed by Blickensderfer. The team made trackbar adjustments, spring adjustments, wedge adjustments and wedge. Although the car never had the amount of rear grip that Ambrose hoped for, he still stayed only one lap down and posted faster lap times after each pit stop.
The race turned for the better during a Lap 221 caution when Blickensderfer called for a wave around putting Ambrose back onto the lead lap. It changed the complex of the night as Ambrose was able to race back in the Top-20. The team wasn't able to race into the Top-10, but stayed between 15th and 20th. It looked as though the team may finish outside the Top-15 a lap down, but a late-race caution allowed for another wave around.
Another caution came out that forced a green-white-checkered finish, and Blickensderfer called Ambrose down pit road for a quick chassis adjustment to help in the two lap sprint. Ambrose, one of the best at restarts in the Series, moved up to 14th, where he finished. The team moved back up to 17th in points and is tracking towards the Top-15 going into Richmond.
"A lot of guys had really loose race cars, and our DEWALT Ford drove so much different than what it did in practice," said Ambrose. "We had a 20th-place race car and finished 14th with it. It is a good points night, and we will keep chipping away. It is a lot of positives for us from the weekend with good qualifying on Friday. We just have to work out how to make these cars run when the tape comes off the nose. All in all, not a bad weekend."
Aric Almirola, No. 43 Fresh From Florida Ford
Aric Almirola started the weekend off setting the track record during qualifying and earned a third-place starting spot for the Southern 500. The changing track conditions in the race from day to night continued to affect the Fresh From Florida’s handling. A spin and a pit road penalty hindered the No. 43 Fresh From Florida team from moving forward after falling back into the Top-30. Utilizing late race pit strategy, Almirola salvaged two spots in the final laps to finish 24th. The finish moved Almirola to 24th in the point standings.
Starting from the inside of the second row, Almirola told the crew the No. 43 Fresh From Florida Ford was a little tight. He continued to race in the Top-Five until the first caution, 42 laps into the race. During the caution, he elaborated that the No. 43 was tight in the center of the corner and then loose off the turn, a condition the team would fight all 500 miltes. Crew Chief Trent Owens called for a four-tire pit stop and chassis adjustment.
The setting sun and last set of adjustments hurt the “Petty Blue” Ford, and Almirola fell back to 13th. The team continued to work strategy and adjustments on the Ford Fusion. Unfortunately by Lap 94, the “Lady in Black” proved a fierce competitor, and the No. 43 Fresh From Florida Ford fell to 21st as Almirola reported it was really loose.
The team continued to work on the car but fell a lap down to the leader by Lap 185 while in the 27th position. Still struggling with a tight car early in the run and an extremely loose car at the end of the run, Almirola raced in the Top-30 while the team made multiple adjustments to chase the track as the sun set.
As he worked to gain track position, Almirola spun racing hard inside of the No. 10 and lost all momentum forward. With 100 laps to go, the team improved the car in open air but traffic affected the Fresh From Florida’s handling, and they fell a second lap down to the leaders. A Commitment Line Violation during green-flag pit stops with 40 laps to go put the team another lap down. They utilized a late-race caution to get the wave around and salvage a few spots. Almirola did just that and brought home a 24th-place finish.
"After having such a good day on Friday, today was not what we had expected," said Almirola. "We were okay at the start, but as the sun set, our car continued to get worse. Trent (Owens) and the guys worked hard to get the car handling better, but we couldn’t make the adjustments we needed to in order to get the car better. It’s a shame. We were really hoping to repeat our success on Friday and get a good finish at Trent’s home track. But this is a good start. Each weekend, we are showing progress. Now, we just need to put it all together, and we'll get to Victory Lane.”
Richard Petty Motorsports will now rest for Easter next Sunday before returning to the Richmond International Raceway the following Saturday night for a 400-mile night event. The race will be televised live by FOX and broadcast live on SIRIUS/XM NASCAR and MRN Radio.
About Richard Petty Motorsports:
A performance and marketing driven company, Richard Petty Motorsports, co-owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty and successful business entrepreneurs Andrew Murstein and Douglas Bergeron, is one of the most recognized brands in all of motorsports. With a history of over 200 wins and business partnerships with national and global leaders, today the race operation fields two teams in competition in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Aric Almirola pilots the famous No. 43 Ford Fusion with primary partners Smithfield Foods, U.S. Air Force, STP, Strike Ten Entertainment and Fresh From Florida, and Marcos Ambrose drives the No. 9 machine with primary partners STANLEY, DEWALT, Mac Tools and Twisted Tea. In addition, Dakoda Armstrong wheels the No. 43 WinField Ford Mustang full-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The team is headquartered in Concord, N.C.