Aric Almirola showed speed early in the weekend posting fast times in practice and qualifying. He started the STP 400 from the sixth spot and battled the handling of the No. 43 STP Farmland Ford.
The team worked on the car's handling, and Almirola wheeled to his second consecutive top-10 finish as he crossed the finishline in the eighth position. The top-10 allowed him to hold onto the 13th spot in championship points.
Almirola told the team that the car was good but hitting the splitter a little bit. He continued by saying that as soon as they could get clean air, the rest of the field is in trouble. After the restart, he broke the top-five and drove into the third position although he battled a tight condition as he drove up behind cars making it hard to pass.
An accident in Turn Two brought out the caution with the No. 43 STP Farmland Ford in the third position. Crew Chief Todd Parrott called for a two-tire pit stop. The team took extra time to fuel the car and restarted in the seventh position. Almirola drove into the sixth position before falling back to the seventh spot.
He told the STP Farmland crew that the car was way too tight on a two-tire stop. Debris brought out the third caution on Lap 74. Parrott called for another two-tire stop and a trackbar adjustment. Almirola raced in the top-10 until Lap 96 when he fell to the 11th position and told the crew that the No. 43 STP Farmland Ford was really loose into and off the corner.
No. 43 STP Farmland Ford driven by Aric Almirola A two-car incident in Turn Four on Lap 105 brought out the caution with the Petty Blue Ford in the 11th position. The team elected to make a four-tire stop with adjustments and restarted in the 20th position. The No. 43 STP Farmland Ford raced in the top-20.
As green-flag pit stops began, Almirola told the Richard Petty Motorsports crew that the car had no side bite in the rear and no steer in the center of the corner. On Lap 157, he pit for two tires and returned to the track in the 17th position when pit stops cycled through.
A spin in Turn Two brought out the sixth caution on Lap 175 with the No. 43 Ford in 16th. Almirola said the STP Farmland Ford was tighter when the sun was out and did not have enough side bite. The team made another four-tire stop and restarted 20th.
They continued in the top-20 until a four-car incident including teammate Marcos Ambrose brought out the caution on Lap 183. After restarting 19th, Almirola drove into the 15th position by Lap 212 and started to talk strategy for the next stop. Three laps later, he drove into 13th, and teams began making green-flag pit stops.
As he drove the No. 43 STP Farmland Ford back into the top-10, NASCAR Officials called a caution for sheet metal on the track. Almirola told the team that the car was the best it had been all day, but he still struggled with side bite and a tight condition. Parrott called for two right-side tires and a trackbar adjustment for the team's final pit stop.
The STP Farmland Ford restarted eighth with 43 laps remaining. Almirola drove into the sixth position one lap later and held the spot for the next 10 laps. He fell to seventh but continued posting fast lap times.
Fellow Ford driver Keselowski worked passed the No. 43 in the final laps, and Almirola drove the No. 43 STP Farmland Ford to an eighth-place finish in his 1999-throwback paint scheme. The finish kept him in the 13th spot in the championship standings, just 18 points outside of a Chases spot.
"It was a good day for us," Almirola said. "We thought we had a great car at the beginning of the race, but then the track changed on us and we lost our track position. And then the handling drastically changed on our car, so we had to battle back from that and made a lot of adjustments.
Todd Parrott did a great job rallying our guys, making good adjustments and making great pit calls to get some track position. Right there at the end, our guys gave us a great pit stop when it counted, and we got another top-10. That's two top-10s two weeks in a row, and I'm proud of that."
Marcos Ambrose No. 9 Stanley Ford Race Summary
For the second consecutive weekend, Marcos Ambrose and the No. 9 Stanley Racing Ford were one of the fastest teams on the track. But, for the second consecutive weekend, bad luck derailed a run that saw the black and yellow No. 9 in the top-10 all day.
This week the bad luck came in the form of Ambrose spinning when the car, for an unknown reason, just turned around on him. He was then hit on his left-front fender and forced to spend time on pit road for repairs.
The Drew Blickensderfer-led team made repairs and kept Ambrose on the lead lap, but the car didn't handle as well and Ambrose held onto a 20th-place finish.
The day looked a lot better earlier for Ambrose after starting 15th for the 267-lap race. The team jumped up to 12th on the start before running 16th in the opening 50 laps. The team, like others, used a two-tire pit strategy to gain track position early in the race. The pit stops, combined with a fast car, put Ambrose seventh on the restart on Lap 78.
No. 9 Stanley Ford driven by Marcos Ambrose At this point, Ambrose really showed how strong the Stanley Ford team was. Surviving two quick cautions and three and four-wide restarts, Ambrose raced as high as fifth and never out of the top-11 from laps 80 to 150. The team then ran the fuel tank dry, and Ambrose dove down pit lane for his first four-tire pit stop of the day. The team also made a chassis adjustment to tighten his car up.
Ambrose came out of the pits and still raced in the top-10. He stayed in the position until Lap 175 when the caution came out. The team came down pit road for left-side tires only and came out looking to close the final laps in the top-five. On the restart, however, the back of the No. 9 slipped around, and Ambrose was then hit by another car in the left-front. The accident forced Ambrose to come down pit road with a flat tire and damage to repair.
The Stanley crew did just that and kept Ambrose on the lead lap. But, the car just wasn't the same after and didn't have the speed to stay in the top-10. Instead, Blickensderfer used a two-tire stop during a caution on Lap 219 to get Ambrose back to 12th. Stating that his car was a "five out of five" loose, Ambrose did everything he could to keep the car straight.
He finished the day in 20th-place and now moves to 19th in the championship standings. He is less than 50 points out of 10th-place and a Chase position with some of his best events still to come.
"I'm just disappointed today," said Ambrose after the event. "We had such a good Stanley Ford, and were running around the top-10 all day, but when the sun came out, it changed. I didn't expect it, and not sure, but it spun out off of Turn Two and we got some damage. We were able to stay on the lead lap, but that's not the finish we wanted after running well."
Richard Petty Motorsports