The King's men: Richard Petty Motorsports drivers riding high
MAR 18, 2014 9:19p ET
In fact, prior to last Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, the two had never finished in the top five on the same day.
But after Almirola and Ambrose came home third and fifth, respectively, at the high-banked .533-mile oval, the RPM drivers are hungry for more as the Sprint Cup Series heads west this weekend to Auto Club Speedway in California. They'd also like to prove that their stellar outings in Thunder Valley were no fluke and, perhaps, a sign that the organzation co-owned by seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Richard Petty is a force to be reckoned with in 2014.
"Last week gave our team a lot of momentum going into this weekend," said Almirola, who scored his career-best finish in NASCAR's top series last weekend. "It showed that all of our hard work and all the investment from our partners like Smithfield Foods and Farmland is paying off. We have shown speed everywhere we've gone this year; we just haven't seen the results to prove it. We did just that last week."
Illuminating Almirola's stellar Bristol effort was the fact the Tampa, Fla., native struggled to a 25th-place result the previous weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he finished three laps down.
"We weren't happy with our result at Vegas, for sure, and last weekend helped us bounce back," Almirola said. "We haven't forgotten about that though, and Trent (Owens, crew chief) and the guys have been working really hard to bring a car that will race well on Sunday at California."
Like his teammate, Ambrose feels good about Sunday's race at the fast two-mile track in Southern California after such a strong performance at Bristol, where Ford drivers claimed four of the top five finishing positions.
Bristol marked Ambrose's first top-five finish since the August 2012 race at the popular short track.
"We have a lot of confidence that we can continue this level of performance," said Ambrose, a two-time champion of Australia's V8 Supercar Series. "California is a tough track, really fast with a lot of grooves, but we're ready to step it up there and get a good finish.
"We haven't had the results we have wanted there, but we've put in work with these new rules to get better. I know the guys will be busy this weekend so we get the best car possible for Sunday."
Whether it comes at Auto Club Speedway or elsewhere, Ambrose is focused on getting a win in the season's first 26 races — which under the new 2014 points system would all but guarantee the Aussie his first berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
One of the Sprint Cup Series' best road racers, Ambrose will be a favorite to win when the tour visits Sonoma Raceway in June and Watkins Glen International in August.
"With this new Chase format, you just don't know how it's going to shake out, but if we get ourselves a win, it takes care of a lot," said Ambrose, who is 15th in the standings. "At the same time, we need to put ourselves in the best point position, too, so we can possibly grab a spot that way.
"Right now, we're really close. There is still a lot of time, and a lot of things can happen, but we're not in a bad position after Bristol."
Almirola shares his teammate's optimism heading into this weekend.
"California is a fun track. I so much enjoy going to the kind of racetrack where the asphalt is old and worn out," he said. "I wish there was a way to repave these racetracks with old asphalt. . . . It seems like the track is getting rougher each year we come, and that makes it a challenge for the crew chiefs and the engineers to figure out how to get the car as low to the ground as they can but without bottoming out on those bumps.
"I'm confident our team can put together a package that will make us competitive on Sunday."