The Charlotte Observer is reporting that Aric Almirola has emerged as the top candidate to drive the famous #43 in 2012. Almirola spent last year with JR Motorsports, finishing fourth in the final Nationwide Series points standings. He is not a stranger to the Richard Petty Motorsports team as he stepped in for a fire Kasey Kahne in 2010 and had some good runs, including a fourth place finish at Homestead that year.
This turn of events is yet another blow to David Ragan this off season. He has to be wondering what he did to create so many enemies in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage. Let’s take a look at his off season since November. Last race of the year, Roush-Fenway Racing gives him a going away gift of a R&D engine that blows midway through the race. He’s released from RFR after sponsorship was not found, and Jack Roush would only fund Matt Kenseth’s #17 car for 2012 out of pocket rather than two cars. Ragan then verbally agrees to drive the #51 Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing, but when Kurt Busch took himself out of the #22 Penske Racing Dodge, Ragan reneges on the deal and puts his 2012 plans on getting that #22 ride.
Ragan is the first driver to be interviewed about the opening at Penske Racing, but there is no immediate decision by the team. Media members basically hand Ragan the keys to the car, how could he not get it? He’s the best available driver out there…at that time. Penske stalls and suddenly A.J. Allmendinger is released from the #43 car and just as suddenly he’s signed and introduced as the new driver of the Penske #22. Ragan is given the shaft again, but it’s ok he can go back to the #51 Phoenix Racing team, right? Wrong! Kurt Busch is signed by the team instead of Ragan. But all hope isn’t lost, there’s the #43 car that is now open because of Allmendinger going to Penske, surely David Ragan is in line for that. I mean, they work with Roush-Fenway Racing hand in hand, that has to earn him some bonus points. So enter it again, media says “Ragan to the #43 is just a matter of time.”
Flash to yesterday’s news break by the Charlotte Observer and it’s not Ragan like everyone is saying, it’s not Aric Almirola, who many didn’t even think would be back in Cup in 2012 or ever. I had him as a wild card entry at Penske Racing, knowing full well they wouldn’t pick him. Obviously this is mostly rumors, but I can see how Almirola makes sense, especially since the prior connection is there from 2010. Sponsorship is supposedly in hand as well for the team, but no leaks on who or whom it could be. Not sure if it’s related to Almirola’s potential signing, as in he brought it with him, or the team had it. Ragan couldn’t get a sponsor to Roush-Fenway, a team that is thought to be on the top tier of Sprint Cup Series cars, now he would be responsible for trying to get one brought in for a 2nd or 3rd tier team like RPM? Probably wasn’t going to happen, but you never know.
Aric Almirola going to RPM is a great deal for him, as previously stated I thought his Cup days were over after Dale Earnhardt, Inc. cannibalized itself and merged with Chip Ganassi Racing. Almirola has shown potential over the years, just never had the full faith of the team he’s been with to show that potential to the fullest. Look at Joe Gibbs Racing, rather than use him for a race, he was replaced mid-race by Denny Hamlin. Hamlin scored Almirola’s only career win, but it doesn’t count to Almirola because he wasn’t driving at the end. Same with DEI, they fell apart before he could be promoted to a full time gig with Mark Martin leaving. Those two had split the #01 U.S. Army car in 2008, then in 2009 he drove the first seven races before the team folded. He’s still young, at age 27, and like I said has potential. Ragan is a year younger with more experience, but my feeling (and I think shared with a lot of people in the garage) is he was given the best equipment and just couldn’t make it work. He’s like Joey Logano, he can be a great Nationwide Series driver but in the Sprint Cup Series, he’ll be average or just below.