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RPM Race Break: Eight Races In, Strong Start to 2014

It's been a strong start to 2014 for RPM, even with a devastating loss.
It's been a strong start to 2014 for RPM, even with a devastating loss.
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The Easter holiday is a welcome weekend for NASCAR. It gives teams an opportunity for everyone to actually take a break from the weekly grind of analyzing the car from the previous week and getting things turned around to head back out on the road.

It also means a chance to relax, and look back on the start to the season, what has worked and what has not gone exactly as planned.

Richard Petty Motorsports is at the point of looking back and seeing what has gone well this season, along with what has not gone right. Compared to years prior, this season has gone extremely well for the duo of Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola. Here's a look at each of their seasons to this point.

Marcos Ambrose

After signing another deal to return to the No. 9 team for this season, the Australian-born driver looked ready to show he was more than just a master on road courses. He certainly had a lot going when he started the season with a top-10 effort to get him in the Daytona 500, and finished with a respectable 18th.

Since then, Ambrose has been about average, beating the teams he's expected to beat. His best finish came at both Bristol and Martinsville, which was fifth. Last week, he qualified a solid fourth at Darlington and again came home with a mildly respectable 14th.

At the same time, the key thing is he's been finishing races, as so far he's posted no DNF's on the year.

Ambrose is certainly going to be a factor at some of these larger tracks, including Charlotte and even Dover. He may end up getting that first oval win, whether it's taking a gamble on pit road or simply having a strong car. The "Tasmanian Devil" is ready to get back to the track.

Aric Almirola

When Almirola signed a new, extended deal with RPM before the season, it gave him the job security he's not had in Cup since he entered it full-time. Knowing he will be in the No. 43 for a few more years, it has given him incentive to perform well for his bosses, and sponsors.

The hard part, unfortunately, for Almirola thus far to start 2014 has been consistency, as through the first eight races, he's only captured one top-five finish, that being at Bristol where he placed third, and two top-10's, the other solid finish being 8th at Martinsville. He's failed to finish two races, one being the Daytona 500 and the other at California where he got taken out in a mid-race wreck.

Outside of those two races, Almirola's highest finish is 12th, coming at Texas. All but one of the races he's finished inside the top-20.

What Almirola is looking for currently is consistency, and looking ahead to the immediate future on the schedule, the race he could possibly be a strong car would be Kansas. It's the place where a few years ago he had the best car of his entire career, only to have a late accident take him out.

The No. 43 team wants to win, as does Almirola, they just have to put an entire race together.

Without question, the hardest thing RPM had to endure this early in the season was the loss of Lynda Petty, as the entire NASCAR community gathered round to mourn her death but also celebrate her legacy and impact on the sport. "The King" has been away from the track to cope with the loss of his wife, and even now the team is feeling the pain of having that void in the Petty camp.

What it does do, however, is give both RPM teams a reason to win, and dedicate it to a woman who devoted her life to not just her husband who was driving, but also the other wives of the drivers on the track. The loss of Petty was felt all around NASCAR, however the RPM teams and their competition all know her impact on the sport is continuing.

NASCAR gets back to racing this Saturday night with the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on FOX.

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