Friday notebook: Almirola laments RPM losses, vows to forge ahead

Aric Almirola made the Chase for the Sprint Cup this season while driving the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, and vowed Friday that RPM is committed to building on that despite recent setbacks.

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Almirola talks about the loss of Ambrose, Stanley

After a disappointing start to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Richard Petty Motorsports has been left to deal with the added loss of Marcos Ambrose and primary sponsor Stanley for the 2015 season.

With the team saying they are committed to continuing as a two-car team moving forward, Aric Almirola spoke highly of Ambrose and his contributions to the organization Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

"Marcos has been fantastic for Richard Petty Motorsports," Almirola said. "He was there a year before me, so he was there at probably its darkest hour with the Gillett split and bankruptcy and Richard putting a lot of his own money to keep the team alive, and going from four cars down to two. Marcos has seen a lot of that company and helped build it to where it is today, and I’m extremely appreciative of that because I get to reap the benefits of that. I feel like I was a big part of that, but I came in a year later. 

"He’s probably been one of the best teammates that I’ve ever worked with," he added. "He’s such a fun guy and a lot of fun to be around, and he’s an extremely good race car driver. I know he doesn’t give himself the credit he deserves on the ovals. We all know he’s probably the world’s best road course race, but he’s damn good on the ovals, too."

With the string of tough news coming over the past week, Almirola echoed the team’s commitment to running a two-car operation, saying that has to be the case if they want to be one of the top teams in the sport.

"I think anytime you do things with just one person it becomes really easy to get stuck in your ways and not be able to see outside the box, but as soon as you get more information, more teammates, more heads thinking on the same thing, it opens your eyes to a lot of different opportunities as far as setups and people and ways to go about setting your cars up and processes in the shop," he said. "So I think anytime something like this is going down it’s important for the guys and first and foremost for the guys at the race team to know that, ‘Hey, you’re OK, you’re safe. We’re not shutting the car down. We’re gonna have two cars and we’re gonna go racing.’

" … On top of that for everything that we’ve built over the last four or five years to this point and being a winning race team and a Chase-contending race team, (it’s important) to let everybody know that’s still our goal and we’re not backing down from that."

Almirola also pointed out the fact Smithfield Foods has stepped up its commitment to Richard Petty Motorsports, and are "already trying to figure out ways how they can help the 9 car."

Jimmie Johnson turns 39, but no big celebration yet

Jimmie Johnson: 'We're working our guts out' to find more speed in the No. 48 car

Six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson celebrated his 39th birthday earlier this week, but the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet is holding the big party for his 40th birthday next year. Instead, this time around Johnson kept the celebration low-key day with his family.

"It was really a mild day," said Johnson. "With it being my 39th, I asked the family to just kind of chill out and we’ll save up for next year. So, I had a fun day and hung out with the kids a bunch. I picked (daughter) Genevieve up from school and went and had some ice cream. She was excited about that. I picked her up early and we celebrated together. So, just some fun little moments like that; nothing too over-the-top."

Still at the top of his game behind the wheel, Johnson admitted he did not feel 39, but the reality of approaching 40 was starting to set it.

"It wasn’t long ago I was the rookie, the up-and-coming; and I just watched Kyle (Larson) walk out (of the media center) and it looks like he could still be in high school," Johnson said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "So, time does fly. And certainly, time flies in this industry. It seems like it’s on fast forward and then those parents out there know that once you have kids, man, it really goes fast. And then it’s hard to believe four years have gone by and Genevieve is four now. I think I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life. I’m the most balanced and happy and all those things are there, but the odometer is getting some miles on it."

Miller Lite renews with NHMS for three years

Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski joined NMHS executive vice president and general manager Jerry Gappens and Kevin Emmons, vice president and director of marketing for Amoskeag Beverages, to announce Miller Lite has singed a three-year extension to be the "Official Beer Sponsor of New Hampshire Motor Speedway."

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The initial deal was inked four years ago, and with Friday’s announcement the partnership will continue through the 2017 season.

"We have had a terrific sponsorship with Miller Lite over the years," said Gappens. "We’re always looking to enhance the fan experience, through such initiatives as the (Miller) Lite Lobster Lounge, and this continued partnership with Miller Lite will only enhance that."

For Keselowski, the partnership between Miller and NHMS goes back to the inaugural Sprint Cup Series race in 1993.

"I look at that picture of Rusty Wallace over there on the wall, the first race here at New Hampshire — and he’s got Miller on his suit," said Keselowski, who won the July race at NHMS. "I always consider tracks that have Miller Lite as a sponsor one of my home tracks, so that’s what New Hampshire is to me."

The success of the Miller Lite car at NHMS has also helped the local distributors move product on race day and beyond.

"This (extended partnership) is great for Amoskeag," said Emmons. "And Brad’s on-track success is a big part of this, too. Watching Brad on Sunday’s is like watching a three-hour Miller Lite commercial."

Ryan Truex out as BK Racing shakes up driver roster

Ryan Truex’s rookie season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has been anything but ideal. The driver of the No. 83 BK Racing Toyota failed to qualify for three races — the Daytona 500, Texas and Michigan — has eight DNFs, and missed the August race at Michigan after a hard practice hit.

So it came as no great surprise that the younger Truex brother is not at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend, as BK Racing shifted their driver lineup earlier in the week. With the change, Travis Kvapil is driving the No. 83 Toyota normally piloted by Truex.

This is the first start of the season for Kvapil for BK Racing, the team he ran all 36 races for in 2012.

In addition to the swap with Truex and Kvapil, Clay Rogers is behind the No. 93 Toyota this weekend at NHMS. Rogers is attempting to make his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start. The short-track driver withdrew from his first attempt in the first Loudon race, and failed to qualify for the September Richmond race.

Keselowski, Chase drivers lead opening Sprint Cup practice at NHMS

Brad Keselowski may have punched his ticket to the Chase Contender 12 by winning last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway, but that doesn’t mean he is taking it easy this weekend in Loudon.

Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford topped the leaderboard in Friday’s opening practice session at the 1.06-mile flat track with a lap of 27.516 seconds at 138.421 mph.

While Keselowski took the top spot, non-Chase driver Jamie McMurray had the second fastest time of the session. McMurray’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson was the only other non-Chase driver in the top five.

Other Chase drivers in the top 10 during Friday’s lone practice were Dale Earnhardt Jr. in third, Kasey Kahne fourth, Joey Logano sixth, Carl Edwards seventh, Matt Kenseth eighth, Jeff Gordon ninth, and A.J. Allmendinger 10th.

Chase drivers outside the top 10 were Kyle Busch in 12th, Denny Hamlin in 13th, Kurt Busch in 14th, Kevin Harvick in 15th, Greg Biffle in 16th, Ryan Newman in 22nd, Aric Almirola in 26th, and Jimmie Johnson in 29th.

VIDEO: A blown engine ends Aric Almirola’s strong Chicagoland run in his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford