Richard Petty Motorsports looking to capitalize on consecutive winning seasons

Ed Zurga

Our NASCAR off-season analysis series continues with a look at Richard Petty Motorsports, where Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola appear poised to put the King back into playoff contention.

2012 In The Rearview

A team owned by Richard Petty enjoyed its most successful season in over a decade and did it while continually making changes to key leadership positions.

Richard Petty Motorsports had all the makings of a rebuilding project last season. While drivers Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola finished 18th and 20th in the standings, they did it with a combined four different crew chiefs on top of their pit stalls.

Petty and Competition Director Sammy Johns left no stone unturned in their mission to achieve better results in 2012. The No. 9 and 43 teams started with Todd Parrott and Greg Erwin as respective crew chiefs at the start of the season but finished with Parrott switching over to Almirola, while Ambrose received newly-signed Drew Blickensderfer late in the season.

Mike Ford also spent time as crew chief for both drivers before moving on at the end of the season.

Marcos Ambrose had a typical season, finishing 18th in the standings and returned to victory lane at Watkins Glen in a thrilling nail-biter against Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. He followed that victory with a pair of top-5s at Michigan and Bristol but failed to capture a single top-10 the rest of the year.

Petty took a chance on Almirola and he delivered, posting four top-10s and a pole at Charlotte. More importantly, Almirola was extremely durable, averaging a 20th place finish and completed all but three races. Despite a winless season, he still finished just two spots behind the more-heralded Ambrose.

The highlight of Almirola’s season came during the fall race at Kansas where he led 69 laps before cutting a tire and slamming the wall, from the lead, in the middle of the race. He ultimately finished 29th after cutting another tire and failing to finish.

Key changes

Richard Petty Motorsports will feature a line-up virtually unchanged by the off-season. After making most of their moves during the season, RPM appears confident in their current rotation heading into Daytona testing.

Marcos Ambrose will return to the No. 9 with Drew Blickensderfer serving as crew chief. The same applies to Aric Almirola, who will again pair with Todd Parrott.

2013 Driver Lineup

Marcos Ambrose (No. 9 Stanley/DeWalt Ford); Aric Almirola (No. 43 Smithfield Food Ford)

Outlook

The key for RPM will be getting off to a fast start. If Ambrose and Almirola can establish momentum and build on the chemistry of working with the same crew, 2013 could be a real breakout season for Richard Petty Motorsports.

Ambrose will continue to excel on road courses but has also become a real threat at superspeedways similar to Atlanta and Michigan. His strong run at Bristol in the fall is also a testament to his increased versatility. If he can continue to win on road courses and sneak in a single oval victory, it could earn him a wild card berth.

Almirola really looked like a contender after the midpoint of the season where he racked up two top-10s in his last five races and easily could have contended for the win at Kansas. Almirola and Blickensderfer believe they hit on something at the end of the year. If that chemistry carries over the new car, Almirola could also contend for wins deep into the season.

The work Richard Petty Motorsports put into the rebuilding process is starting to pay dividends. If everything goes according to plan, they could very well find itself as the Michael Waltrip Racing of 2013 and place both cars into the Chase for the Championship.

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