CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — In 75 races as teammates, Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose had never before run in the top five together. They finally broke through at Bristol Motor Speedway, where Richard Petty Motorsports scored its best overall day as an organization in years.
Almirola finished a career-best third at Bristol, while Ambrose was fifth. It marked the first time since Almirola moved into Petty's iconic No. 43 Sprint Cup seat in 2012 that both drivers finished in the top five in the same race.
Now they had to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., looking for another big finish.
"Last week gave our team a lot of momentum going into this weekend," Almirola said. "It showed that all of our hard work and all the investment from our partners is paying off. We have shown speed everywhere we've gone this year, we just haven't seen the results to prove it. We did just that last week."
For Ambrose, his finish at Bristol was his first top-five since Bristol in August 2012. Last season was a disappointing year of only six top-10 finishes for the Australian.
But California will be a different animal.
"We have a lot of confidence that we can continue this level of performance," Ambrose said. "California is a tough track, really fast with a lot of grooves, but we're ready to step it up there and get a good finish. We haven't had the results we have wanted there, but we've put in work with these new rules to get better. I know the guys will be busy this weekend so we get the best car possible for Sunday."
In eight previous starts at Fontana, Ambrose has yet to finish on the lead lap. His best finish was 21st in 2012 and his average finish is 28th.
Almirola was a career-best 14th at Fontana last year — but it raised his average finish to 29th in six career starts.
But he likes the way his team has started the year and feels good headed to California.
"We've had a lot of positives," he said. "We didn't run very good at Vegas. We struggled really bad there, but at Daytona we had a great car. We went up and led some laps and had a really strong car there. At Phoenix, we had a good car and ran in the top-10 all day and then those last couple of restarts we didn't have very good restarts and I finished 14th or 15th, so we've had good cars, we've had good runs. This is how we expect to run.
"We were not very happy with how our season went last year and we've made a lot of changes and all of those changes seem to have been positive."
MOONLIGHTERS: Much has been made of the stars of the Sprint Cup Series racing in the lower levels, largely because of Kyle Busch's recent domination.
Busch won a combined 17 races in the Nationwide and Truck Series last season. This year, he's won two of the first four Nationwide races and the season-opening Truck Series race at Daytona. Brad Keselowski also has a Nationwide win.
NASCAR understands that many fans are unhappy with the Cup stars dominating in the lower series, and said recently they are considering limiting how many races full-time Cup drivers can run in the future.
Kyle Larson, who moved from Nationwide to Cup this season, said he'd be disappointed by such a rule.
"I think the Nationwide regulars like Cup guys running with them. I know I do," he said. "Whenever I'm out there with guys like Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, I can see them in front of me, I'm learning a lot from them. I like it. I think it's good for the development-side of the young drivers 'cause it is a development series for those kids. I think it's a good thing for NASCAR to have the Cup guys in there because it's just going to make their series more competitive when those young guys move up."
Larson spent only one season in Nationwide. He scored 17 top-10 finishes, was eighth in the final standings and used last year as a springboard into a Sprint Cup Series ride.
Now that he's a Cup driver, he plans this year to run all the companion Nationwide races for Turner-Scott Motorsports, with the support of Cup team owner Chip Ganassi.
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