Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Name That Driver" for Richard Petty Motorsports: Aric Almirola has edge over David Ragan

Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
Another week goes by and another rumor as to who will be pegged to drive the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports. The latest rumor has the NASCAR fans (and media) buzzing: Aric Almirola is the latest contestant called upon in the game of “Name That Driver” for RPM.

Reports surfaced late last week that Almirola is potentially being tapped to fill the vacant RPM ride and a formal announcement will come after the New Year.

Debates are raging - is Almirola a suitable driver to fill the 43? Why Almirola over David Ragan, who was also a contestant in “Name That Driver”?

Both Almirola and Ragan have made significant gains in their respective careers. For Almirola, he has three wins, one in Nationwide and two in the Camping World Truck Series, along with being a championship contender in the NCWTS in 2010. Almirola also has a pre-existing relationship with RPM after finishing out the year in the No. 9 seat in 2010. The results were pretty good for the team and Almirola: his only top-5 finish in Sprint Cup came at the season finale in Homestead with Richard Petty's team.

Ragan also has equal merit, winning the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona this past summer to clench his elusive first Sprint Cup Series win and also holds two Nationwide Series wins, both occurring back in 2009.

Looking at the stats of Almirola and Ragan, it's a close call as to who would have the upper hand. I know some will argue that Ragan’s stats are in Sprint Cup and Almirola’s are in Nationwide. To that argument I have to add that Almirola has a diversified level of experience, as he has driven in all three series. Ragan has competed in two of the three series full-time, although he did make a handful of starts in the Truck Series. That being said, I am asking you to throw that out the window for argument's sake and just look at the numbers.

In Almirola's five-year Nationwide career, with only one year full-time, he has a total of 73 starts which include one win, 10 top 5s and 28 top 10s. The lone win for Almirola came at the Milwaukee Mile while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2007. Looking at his stats, Almirola has scored his top-10 finishes across a variety of tracks. The young driver found success at intermediates like Charlotte, Chicagoland and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, short tracks including Bristol and IRP and even the superspeedways. Overall, Almirola is a strong driver. Looking at just the 2011 season, he had an average finish of 12.1 for the year.

In comparison, Ragan has been full-time for five years in the Sprint Cup Series and competed in a total of 182 races all with Jack Roush’s Roush Fenway Racing. In that time span, Ragan claims just one win and a total of 12 top 5s and 30 top 10s. Primarily Ragan’s success has come on the restrictor-plate tracks: he collected his first win at Daytona in 2011 and has five total top-5 finishes (of his 12 total) at plate races. Ragan has also found repeat success at the short track of Richmond International Raceway. Intermediate tracks like Charlotte have been a strong area for Ragan but not consistently so. At the end of the 2011 season, Ragan had an average finish of 19.2.

Looking at Texas Motor Speedway, a strong track for Roush Fenway Racing, Ragan’s results are all across the board. His finishes range from a best effort of 7th in the spring of 2011 to a 39th-place finish in 2007. In 10 starts at Texas, Ragan’s average finish is 19.6.

Merely judging by average finish for 2011 alone, Almirola gets the nod for the No. 43 car.

Does it matter that the majority of Almirola’s career has been in NNS while Ragan was in Cup - no! Everyone needs to make the leap sometime, why not now? The Nationwide Series is meant to help develop drivers, so if that is true, Almirola's stats are showing he is ready for a move. 

After a heated discussion among friends, many said that Ragan deserves the ride more because he has Sprint Cup experience, specifically in a Ford, and also a win. That argument becomes mute when you look at the numbers and compare the stats. Racing is a game of numbers, pure and simple, and to sponsors that is what matters. As a sponsor and team weigh their options, they ask themselves, “Who is going to get us the best finishes, the most points and overall will be the most successful for our company?”

Again I defer to the numbers – Almirola finished 4th in the Nationwide Series this season and also was the runner-up for the Camping World Truck Series championship in 2010. On the other hand, Ragan’s finishes in the Sprint Cup points standings have been 23rd (2007), 13th (2008), 27th (2009), 24th (2010) and 23rd (2011) in his time with Roush Fenway Racing.

Numbers win – if it were up to me (thankfully it is not), Aric Almirola would be the next driver in the RPM iconic No. 43 car and the winner of  “Name That Driver!”

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