NASCAR Darlington 2013: Aric Almirola credits crew chief for placing the Petty No. 43 in championship contention

Geoff Burke

Aric Almirola has been one of the feel-good stories early in the 2013 NASCAR season. He and crew chief Todd Parrott have placed the legendary Richard Petty No. 43 into Chase contention. Can they keep it up?

Aric Almirola making the Chase and competing for the Sprint Cup Series championship is becoming a real possibility after the first 10 races of the 2013 season. It may be time to dismiss the notion that Almirola's fast start was some sort of fluke and the possibility that Richard Petty Motorsports is here to stay.

When Almirola entered Bristol in the fourth week of the season, in the top-10 in the standings, some onlookers predicted that Almirola would need a perfect campaign just to keep pace. And when a flat tire and bad finish derailed him to 22nd in the standings, those same on-lookers said the dream season was over.

But RPM kept plugging away and the No. 43 is back in the top-10 entering Saturday night's race at Darlington Speedway and Almirola is making plans to stay there.

It's not a fluke," Almirola said. "We've actually battled back from 22nd in points up to eighth, so I'm really proud of (crew chief) Todd Parrott and all the guys on this No. 43 team. They've been giving me really fast cars each and every week and we're on a little bit of a run here the last few weeks. We've got four top 10s in a row, so I'm really proud of my guys...

"We're not as surprised as everybody else is. We feel like at the end of last year we were running really strong and we were a little disappointed at Homestead came because we didn't want the season to end because we were running so well. The beginning of this season has kind of picked up where we left off last year and I'm really proud of that."

Almirola credits the fast start to Parrott.

When the two were paired together in September of last season, Almirola said he was thrilled to be treated like a friend and not an employee and that the chemistry was instant. He praised his crew chief for not wanting to change his driving style and delivering set-ups that suited his habits.

All that's left for Almirola now is to maintain that momentum and put the famed Richard Petty No. 43 back in victory lane - a feat that hasn't been accomplished since 1999 with driver John Andretti. Returning one of the most legendary cars to victory lane was one of Almirola's top goals since joining the team and he's placed a lot of thought towards it.

"I think a lot of people have a lot in connection with that 43 car, especially the long-time fans of NASCAR that have been watching Richard Petty," Almirola said. "The big thing for me is I want to get that 43 car back to Victory Lane bad. It's been 13 or 14 years since it's been to Victory Lane and I'd like nothing more than to be the guy to get that done and get the 43 back to Victory Lane."

Can Almirola get it done this season and is he a legitimate Chase contender this season? Share your opinions in the comment section below.

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