Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is eight races into his rookie Cup season and is closing in fast on securing his first win racing at the pinnacle of NASCAR. At Kansas, his chances of winning were very high until a late race debris caution thwarted the young racer’s chances at victory. He ended the race 11th tying his career best. Aric Almirola has raced in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) for six years but this is just his second full-time season. He started up front last Sunday and his #43 Ford Fusion for Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) adorned a throwback STP paint scheme that the legendary Richard Petty once ran. He finished 8th after running as high as 2nd during the event.
There’s no question that these two will win their first NSCS race soon and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they both do it in 2013. Ricky was battling with Scott Speed for the ARCA championship back in 2008 and things got pretty ugly between the two. After Stenhouse took Speed out in what looked to be an intentional incident, Speed retaliated handing the title to Justin Allgaier. After that, Roush moved Ricky up to Nationwide (NNS) where he would struggle to find his footing throughout the 2009 season wrecking very often. Towards the end of 2010 when rumors started to swirl that Ricky might lose his ride, something clicked inside his brain and he started ripping off top 5’s all over the place. He went on to win the NNS title in both 2011 and 2012 before taking over the #17 from Matt Kenseth in the NSCS.
Ricky is one of the more aggressive drivers in the sport today but he’s learned to temper that aggression over the past few years. In 2013, he has yet to post a top 10 finish but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t spent any time up front. On the contrary, he was within arm’s reach of victory lane at Kansas before a caution came out while he was on pit road ruining his day. Aric Almirola is quietly sitting 12th in the standings right now and ripped off his first two top 10’s of the season at Texas (7th) and Kansas (8th). The RPM driver is gaining momentum as he looks to bring the famous No.43 back to victory lane for the first time in the 21st century.
His NASCAR career started back in 2004 when he competed in four truck races finishing inside the top 10 twice. In 2006, he went full time in the Camping World Truck Series finding little success and struggling to an 18th place finish in the standings. He also won the pole for a NNS race that year at Daytona. In 2007, he got his chance in Cup and I believe he was thrown into the car way too soon like so many other drivers. In 4 years of driving part-time, he accumulated one top 5 and two top 10’s. In 2011, he joined JR Motorsports and ran for the NNS title finishing a solid 4th in the points. He was ready to go back to Cup and Richard Petty knew it offering him the #43 seat which was vacated by AJ Allmendinger. Aric’s results were sporadic and disappointing but things look a lot different in 2013. He has driven smart races, contends for top 10’s every week and stays out of trouble finishing well.
Now that the history lesson is over, let’s talk a little about the future of these two very talented racers. Stenhouse was brought up the “right way” and is ready to battle for wins against the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. Almirola is just now getting to that point and is outperforming teammate Marcos Ambrose; it was the other way around last year.
If fate was kinder, Ricky could have won Kansas this past weekend just eight races into his rookie year and with 28 races remaining, he’s got plenty of time for redemption. I don’t see Ricky making the chase this year unless he wins a race or two which he’s fully capable of doing. On the other hand, the consistency of Aric Almirola could be enough to get him inside the top 10 and into the chase with no wins. He needs to turn those 14th’s and 15th’s into 7th’s and 8th’s though which he seems to be doing. That famed #43 has been driven by a lot of people since that Martinsville win way back in 1999 so history isn’t on his side but that car hasn’t been this fast in a while either. Ricky will win in 2013, Aric might but they both will end up winning multiple races before their careers are over.
They both have the talent, the team, the crew chief and the passion to get it done and they will.