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Almirola had a strong close to last year, finishing fourth at Martinsville to begin a final month without a finish lower than 16th. He opened this year with a 13th in the Daytona 500, was 15th at Phoenix and 16th last week at Las Vegas.
It’s all a credit to RPM’s personnel, he said.
“We do have less resources,” he said. “The only way to overcome that is to have great people, and that’s what I feel like we have. We’ve got a great group of people here at Richard Petty Motorsports. We’ve got a lot of people that work really, really hard and work extremely long hours to make sure that our cars have every detail and every I and every T is crossed.”
Tony Schumacher has advanced to the last four Top Fuel final rounds dating back to last season, and his win two weeks ago in Phoenix was the 70th of his career. Clearly on a roll, he’s got a 79-point lead in the standings and seems to be an early championship contender.
Schumacher said his U.S. Army team is stronger than it was at the end of last season.
“Our car was phenomenal, but it’s better now. It’s better this year,” he said. “I’m excited, man. We’ve got a great car, a great team. I’m looking forward to 22 more fantastic races starting at Gainesville, one of my favorite places, ever, to race.”
Ron Capps, meanwhile, has posted back-to-back final rounds to open the season in Funny Car. His win at Phoenix gave him a 45-point lead in the standings and he’s looking to extend that margin with perhaps a third career Gatornationals victory.
“Gainesville is one of the big four races that NHRA has,” he said. “It was a huge race when I was growing up and it still is. You get pumped up when you’re driving to the track and see all those campers. It’s a destination race where a lot of fans attend as part of a vacation.”
He may be challenged by Courtney Force, who sits second in the standings and won the season opener at Pomona. She lost to Capps in the first round of last year’s Gatornationals.
“I feel that our Traxxas Ford Mustang team has come a long way from when we were racing in Gainesville just a year ago,” Force said. “When I was competing at the race track last year, it had only been my third race as a rookie driver. This track was new and unfamiliar to me, and I struggled. I hope that I can take everything I learned from throughout last season and really improve with my performance going into Gainesville.”
By Donald Lambro
Growth spikes are little more than trend-free anomalies
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Let it snow