Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 39 points out of the top 10. Gained four spots last week.
DARLINGTON RECORD: Best finish in two starts is 19th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola admits "Darlington is not my best track, so I'm hoping Trent (Owens, crew chief) can bring his success with him. It's his home track, so we really want to run well there. They call Darlington the track 'Too Tough to Tame' and it really lives up that name. We really need to focus on racing the race track. I say it every week, but it is especially true there. It's important to stay focused on your race and not let the cars around you change your focus or strategy."
LOOKING BACK: Almirola rallied in the final 100 laps to finish 12th at Texas. "The car was loose all day," said Almirola. "The guys worked hard to get it better, and they did, but the weather and track conditions kept changing and we weren't there (as good as it needed to be) at the end. Our intermediate track program is still not where we want it to be, but this was a good improvement. A 12th-place finish will help us in the points."
ETC.: Almirola surprised Army Sergeant Ralph Harroff and his family with a shopping spree at a Kroger grocery store prior to the Texas race as part of Eckrich's "Operation Inspiration" campaign which supports and honors military families. Harroff and his family were also special guests of Almirola and the race team for the entire race weekend. "I know we put a smile on their faces and hopefully we helped them out with some of their needs," said Almirola. Harroff said, "It's something I'll never forget. Operation Homefront has done so much for our family. There are so many deserving military families. I just feel lucky to be honored like this."
17 RICKY STENHOUSE JR., Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 49 points out of the top 10.
DARLINGTON RECORD: Finished 18th in his Cup debut last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse said, "Darlington has so much history and every driver wants to add their name to the winners of the Southern 500. Darlington is a driver's race track where you can race really hard. Racing under the lights creates more excitement. It's just a fun night, and one I hope where we really have a lot of fun."
LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse had high hopes heading into the Texas race, but his day didn't go as he had envisioned as he finished 26th. "It was a tough day for us," said Stenhouse. "We just couldn't get our Ford to turn and fought tightness for a majority of the day. We will have to look at our teammates (Greg Biffle, who finished sixth, and Carl Edwards, who finished 14th) setup and go back to work."
ETC.: Crew chief Mike Kelley is "looking forward to Darlington It's a tough place to run, but has a lot of history. The track really asks a lot of a driver and team. It's a long race and you will see the cars right around the top. We are taking a brand new car so we are excited to see what we can do under the lights."
41 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 52 points out of the top 10. Lost five spots last week.
DARLINGTON RECORD: Won the pole last year. Has five top-10 finishes in 17 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch still enjoys talking about the spring Darlington race of 2003 when he and Ricky Craven were involved in one of the best races in the long history of the track. "The biggest moment at Darlington I ever had was finishing second (in a photo finish) to Ricky - everyone knows that race," said Busch. "But probably the next biggest moment would be during my championship run in 2004. I had an ill-handling car and still managed to finish sixth with it due to good pit stops. That was a perfect moment because it was our championship to lose with where we finished that day in 2004. That was back when Darlington used to be in the Chase (the next-to-last race of the year)."
LOOKING BACK: It was a long, long weekend for Busch as he battled tire problems throughout practice and the race. On Friday, he had a left-rear tire come apart as Busch slammed hard into the wall forcing him to go to a back-up car for the race. The tire problems continued in the race as Busch suffered three flat tires resulting in three caution flags. As a result, Busch finished 39th a week after winning at Martinsville. "We took a little too aggressive setup today, and it cost us," said crew chief Daniel Knost.
ETC.: Gene Haas, co-owner and founder of Stewart-Haas Racing, is expected to go Formula One racing in 2015. Bernie Ecclestone, chief of Formula One racing, said last week that Haas' application to join the worldwide organization "will be accepted." Haas said he is still waiting on official word. "But Bernie is kind of half Formula One, so I'm sure what he says goes," said Haas. "It (the challenge of Formula One racing) is nothing to be taken lightly. It's fitted with peril and there's a million ways to fail. For all those reasons, that's why you do it, to see if it is something you can do."
4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 65 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.
DARLINGTON RECORD: Finished fifth last year for his sixth top-10 finish in 17 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick feels "any lap around Darlington is a lap where you have got to be paying attention to what's going on because you can get yourself in trouble at any point on the race track. You carry a lot speed into turn one and you run right up the banking right up next to the wall and you're right back into the throttle. Turns three and four are probably the hardest because you carry so much speed off of turn two into three and the line kind of moves around a bit there. It's probably the easiest place to get in the wall."