The surprise driver now in the lead of the available contenders for the Richard Petty Motorsports ride in the legendary No. 43 appears to be Aric Almirola. Many expected David Ragan or Brian Vickers to perhaps land in the cockpit of the 43 Ford. Vickers' Red Bull team closed shop and left the Toyota driver stranded while Ragan elected, after the loss of the UPS sponsorship, to leave Roush Fenway Racing following the departure of Kurt Busch from Penske Racing.

They are not the only top Cup drivers aiming for the best ride they can find in 2012; thus noting that a NASCAR Nationwide Series driver holds the cards is a bit of a shock. Per the Charlotte Observer, that is indeed the case and Almirola, who finished fourth in the Nationwide points this past season, is showing as the favorite for the RPM seat.

RPM, even after the loss of their sponsor Best Buy, stated they still planned to run two cars in the Cup series. Marcos Ambrose remains with the team but A. J. Allmendinger took the available ride at Penske Racing.

Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43
Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43

Photo by: Ashley Dickerson, ASP Inc.

Almirola was set for his second full Nationwide season with JR Motorsports as the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet after earning one pole and 18 top ten finishes this past season. Almirola has 35 starts in the Cup series with his best finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2010, driving the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports.

No official word has been announced at this time on even if RPM has found a sponsor for the No. 43 Ford. Of course the sponsor no doubt will be named at the same time the driver will be named for the 2012 season.