By Ben White
The number 43 is widely associated with seven-time champion Richard Petty. The winner of 200 Cup races enjoyed an incredible career as a driver from 1958 to 1992.
Many have wheeled the famed Petty machines since his retirement and currently, the job falls to Aric Almirola. Last July, he became the first driver to take the No. 43 back to victory lane at Daytona International Speedway since Petty won his final race there in July of 1984.
The Cuban-American standout competitor is most appreciative of the opportunity to carry on such a storied tradition for Richard Petty Motorsports.
“That’s something I’ll cherish even more as I get older,” Almirola said. “I think 20-30 years from now, whether I’m still doing this or not, whether I’m still driving the 43 car or not, whether Richard is still with us or not, I’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, that was really cool.’ I’m going to have the opportunity to have pictures of me and my family, my son and my daughter with the King, standing next to the 43 car in the garage area and in the hauler. Those are things we’ll be able to look back on as a family and say we were really lucky and know those were great times in our lives.”
Born just months before Petty’s last win, Almirola began driving go-karts at age eight and Late Models by age 16 Late Models on short tracks near his Florida home. In 2002, he was chosen for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity short track program and by 2007, landed a Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) ride with Joe Gibbs Racing. Other notable stints came with Ginn Racing, Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Phoenix Racing, to name a few.
Almirola replaced Kasey Kahne for a time at RPM in 2010 and after driving for JR Motorsports in 2011, he returned to RPM as their fulltime driver in 2012. After his contract was extended to a three-year deal in January of 2014, Almirola rewarded the team with the Daytona win six months later.
“…Our goal was to win and put the 43 car back in victory lane and make the Chase. We were able to do both of those things (in 2014),” Almirola said. “Now we’ve got a really good understanding of what the Chase is like and what the level of excellence that’s expected in the Chase. All of my guys on the team are hungry to get back and experience that.”