Perhaps the biggest surprise in the early goings of this NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season was the quiet success of two drivers not known to be in contention on the racetrack and more importantly, in the points standings. These two drivers were Aric Almirola, driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, and Paul Menard, driving for Richard Childress Racing. Neither of these guys had been headline news until this season, where at one point, both sat comfortably in the top ten of points.
Almirola is now driving car no. 43, the number of the King himself. For a while, he was having a breakout season beginning in Texas, where he finished seventh. In the next three races, Almirola was able to keep alive a streak of top-ten finishes. After a tenth-place finish at the home of the Big One, Talladega, the young driver sat at eighth in points, a highpoint for his year so far.
While Almirola found success for a while since the streak, he has met some stumbling blocks that have kept him from coming close to a top-ten finish. In the points standings, he has fallen outside of the safe territory for a Chase hopeful with no wins; he is down to 14th after a 21st-place finish at Pocono Raceway.
In Menard’s case, the RCR driver has had some solid season starts in the past but was doing much this year. He had his own streak of three top tens early in the season, starting at Las Vegas. Menard hasn’t suffered any serious crashes this year, as Almirola has, but this past week he was only able to finish in 30th at the Party in the Poconos 400. This finish took him down to 12th, a very precarious position to be in without a win under the belt.
It will be interesting to see if these guys can turn it around this summer and head back to the top ten. Unfortunately, it becomes more and more unlikely as the big names in the Sprint Cup vie for the Chase spots.