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Almirola leads way to drive 43

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, Dec. 23, 2011

Aric Almirola, who finished fourth in points in the Nationwide Series this season, has emerged as the leading candidate to take over the legendary No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports in the Sprint Cup Series in 2012, the Observer has learned.

The deal, which has come together very quickly, will be announced after the Christmas and New Year's holidays and will include a sponsor announcement, multiple sources confirmed Friday night.

Almirola was set to begin his second full Nationwide Series season with JR Motorsports' No. 88 team in 2012, but his move to the Cup series now leaves his future with that organization unclear.

A spokesperson for RPM said Friday night the organization did plan to make a driver announcement for the No. 43 after the holidays but would have no other comment at this time.

In 34 Nationwide starts this season with the No. 88, which is co-owned by Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., Almirola had seven top-five and 18 top-10 finishes and won one pole.

In 73 starts, he has one Nationwide win to his credit, in a 2007 race at Milwaukee when he started but Denny Hamlin finished.

Almirola, 27, has made 35 starts in the Cup series with a best finish of fourth at Homestead, Fla., in 2010, ironically also driving for RPM in its No. 9 Ford.

A native of Tampa, Fla., the Cuban-American became one of the first drivers to participate in NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program in 2004.

He also has 75 starts and two wins in the Truck series.

RPM recently announced it had lost sponsor Best Buy to Roush Racing and then driver A.J. Allmendinger was hired away by Penske Racing.

RPM officials have insisted they would continue to field two Cup cars in 2012 - the No. 9 driven by Marcos Ambrose and the No. 43.

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