September 8, 2017
Richard Petty Motorsports
Bojangles Southern 500 Race Report
Bojangles Southern 500 Race Results:
1: Denny Hamlin
20: Aric Almirola, No. 43 STP Ford
Aric Almirola kicked off the Official NASCAR Throwback weekend by debuting a Richard Petty-like mustache and 1984 replica firesuit. The No. 43 STP Ford team threw back to Petty’s 1984 200th victory with a “Petty Blue” and Dayglo Orange Ford Fusion. The team felt pretty good about their car and secured a 15th-place starting spot. Unfortunately, the car was too tight to start the race, and Almirola fell to 20th before the first caution allowed the team to make a pit stop and adjustments. The adjustments freed up the car, and another caution on Lap 40 gave the team an opportunity to continue working on the handling. A quick pit stop captured the 18th spot on the restart. By the end of Stage One, Almirola was in 23rd, one lap down. The car was too loose to end the stage and struggled with the brakes for most of the first stage. The team made another stop with adjustments during the break.
The No. 43 STP Ford restarted 23rd and was much better this run. Another quick caution saw the team come down pit road for fresh Goodyear tires. The field saw green-flag racing for 25 laps, and Almirola earned the free pass at the Lap 156 caution. Knowing they had to start at the tail-end of the field, Crew Chief Drew Blickensderfer called for a longer pit stop with bigger chassis adjustments. The adjustments worked as Almirola posted the best times he had all day. He worked up to 22nd before the end of the stage. The team made another four-tire stop with a small adjustment.
Almirola restarted the final stage in the 17th spot. Unfortunately, the team saw a lugnut lying on the brake caliper and worked to see if it would be a problem. Luckily, the yellow flag came out just three laps later and allowed the team to pit and ensure there were no further issues. They restarted 24th. Almirola still posted good lap times and methodically worked his way up to 19th in the next 36 green-flag laps. The field then began green-flag pit stops, and Almirola came down pit road for a four-tire stop and slight changes to help the car’s handling. He drove into the 16th spot when the caution was called on Lap 260. With just over 100 laps left, the team pit once again and continued to tweak the handling and keep up with the changing racetrack.
Unfortunately, the car got really loose, and Almirola earned a “Darlington stripe”. The team elected to make a scheduled green-flag pit stop for four tires and to make sure there wasn’t any damage. By Lap 316, Almirola held the 20th spot but radioed that he had to pump the brakes to get them to work. Blickensderfer kept Almirola on track until the checkered flag dropped to try to pick up a few spots on fuel strategy. They salvaged a 20th-place finish.
“We were just really loose, and we couldn’t make any ground,” said Almirola. “I thought at times during the race we had a decent car. I thought we had maybe a 15th-place car, but the longer the run, we’d just get really loose. We’ll learn from it and keep on going.”