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Almirola said he’s steadily learned and improved during his first trip to NASCAR tracks as an RPM driver. He’s had only one top 10 _ an eighth place at Martinsville _ and was outside the top 20 in six of the season’s first nine races. However, he was 12th at Talladega, 19th at Darlington and 16th at Charlotte the past three races.

Those are finishes that have everyone on Almirola’s No. 43 team eager for more.

“When you go through a year like we’re going through, when you start seeing positives week-in and week-out and start building on those and can build momentum, the guys’ spirits are up,” Almirola said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Ford’s expertise and experience _ he helped Denny Hamlin to 17 wins and 66 top-5 finishes at Joe Gibbs Racing _ are starting to pay off. Ford said he spent the first weeks observing more than getting his hands dirty. That changed some in Charlotte where Ford felt he was more involved in getting the car ready to race.

“I think as long as we keep our heads down, this can happen on a regular basis,” Ford said.

Petty, who’ll turn 75 on July 2, hopes so, too. It seemed he had the No. 43 in victory lane every week when he was behind the wheel. Yet, it’s been 13 years since John Andretti raced one of NASCAR’s most famous numbers to a Sprint Cup win at Martinsville. Still, Petty’s got his sights set on more than just a victory; he’s thinking the Chase for the Championship.

Almirola stands 19th in points with teammate Ambrose a spot behind in 20th. “If we can get a few breaks,” Petty says, “we still have to win a race or two, we’re got a good chance to make the chase. I think by the team we get to the Chase, we’re going to be able to win races day in and day out.”