By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
Athletes in their final events before moving from one team to another are often considered a ‘lame duck.’ Current Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola does not want that label. Almirola has just two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races left with the team before departing for Stewart Haas Racing next year.
Almirola’s tenure at RPM started at the 2010 Martinsville Playoff race. Since then he has earned one victory (Daytona 2014), 11 top-fives, 30 top-10s, and one pole position for the team. Almirola’s best points finish with the team was 2014 when he finished 16th in points.
To date, the 2017 season has been one that Almirola would likely want to forget. He has earned three top-fives and five top-10s this season, but has often struggled to finish inside the top-15. A horrific wreck at Kansas Speedway in May left Almirola sidelined with a back injury for eight weeks. In recent weeks, however, he has scored one top five, two top-10s, and run considerably better on track.
Almirola was quick to discount thoughts of him as a ‘lame-duck’ for the next two races,
“I think you said that, I didn’t say that. I’m a professional. I go out and I want to compete. It doesn’t matter to me what the circumstances are, if there’s money on the line, or if there’s a trophy. I’m a competitor and it doesn’t matter if we’re playing a game of monopoly at home or if we’re at the racetrack on Sunday trying to compete to win a race. I’m going to compete at the highest level that I know how too. I don’t think that this (the Stewart Haas Racing announcement) changes that for me. I’ll still show up to the track at Phoenix and Homestead with my head down and ready to go race.”
At the next two tracks, Almirola’s chances at running up front are decent. At Phoenix Raceway, he has the 18th best average finish among active drivers. At the 1-mile track, Almirola has just one top-10 finish. At Homestead-Miami Speedway, he has the 23rd best average finish among active drivers. At the track where the season finale will take place, Almirola has one top-five and two top-10 finishes.
Almirola was quick to say that he was going to give it his all.
“I’m a competitor. It’s not in me to just go out and cruise around. I have known about this announcement for a few weeks now. I went and ran top-five at Talladega, top-10 at Kansas, and we finished 15th last week at Texas. I haven’t laid down at all and neither have the guys on our team on the 43 car.”
Now Almirola and his RPM team will look to attempt to play the role of Playoff spoiler.