LOOKING BACK: Almirola battled an ill-handling race car for most of the night as he finished 20th at Atlanta. "That was not the night we were expecting," said Almirola. "We could not anticipate the car's reaction to any of the changes. Each time we made an adjustment, the car did not react the way it should have. This is a really difficult track, but we thought we had a good package coming into the weekend. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the car to do what we wanted it to do."
ETC.: Crew chief Todd Parrott is quick to point out "we got a top-10 the last time we were at Richmond, and we've come a long way since then. So I expect that we can run up front this weekend. We didn't make the Chase, so that will allow us to just focus on getting better and getting a win this season. I think that is a realistic goal."
42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Chevrolet
Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 91 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.
RICHMOND RECORD: Finished fourth in the spring race after leading 67 laps.
LOOKING AHEAD: Montoya said, "Richmond is the race that got away from us earlier this year. Our Chevy was strong and if it wasn't for that untimely caution (with only four laps to go), we would have gotten that win. We're looking forward to going back and getting that win (his first oval track win in NASCAR)." Montoya was leading when the yellow flag was waved. He lost the lead on pit road and ended the night in fourth place.
LOOKING BACK: Montoya dived underneath pole-sitter Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. moments after the green flag was waved to start the race and grabbed the lead. Montoya led the first 24 laps and 38 laps in all before running into handling problems during the middle portions of the race. But Montoya was able to battle back in the final 50 laps to finish sixth at Atlanta for his second straight top-six finish and third in the last four races. "It was a good night for the Target team," said Montoya. "We had some trouble keeping up with the changing track conditions during the first half of the race, but the guys made great changes and the car was good at the end. Happy that we were able to bring home another top-10 finish for Target tonight." Montoya was told last month he would not be returning to the team in 2014.
ETC.: Kyle Larson, 21, is presently in his first full year of racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. While he stands seventh in the Nationwide standings with 14 top-10 finishes including seven top-five's in the first 24 races, he has yet to win a race. But car owner Chip Ganassi believes Larson is ready to tackle the Sprint Cup Series and that is why Larson was named the driver of the 42 car for the 2014 season. "We felt that Kyle was the best option for our organization," said Ganassi. "I'm sure there will be growing pains, but we think he is ready. He is a special kid."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 98 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.
RICHMOND RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in nine starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose is really looking forward to the final 11 races of the season. "I've been really proud of our Richard Petty Motorsports team the past month," said Ambrose. "It just seems that we're working really well together, and we're making the most of our races. I think it has given everyone a lot of confidence and is making us stronger as we go into the final 11 weeks. We just seem to be getting better, and it's making me feel good behind the wheel. We wish we had these results earlier in the year, but that's part of racing. We had to let some bad luck get behind us, and now, we're really starting to show some strength."
LOOKING BACK: After running as high as third late in the race, Ambrose was disappointed to end the night in 13th place. "It's not the finish that we wanted, but we ran strong. We fought hard all night. We didn't have the fastest car, but we got ourselves in a good position. If that last yellow flag hadn't come out, we would've been in great shape. I just needed clear air on the nose. In traffic I was in trouble. And so on that last restart, we lost a lot of ground we had gained. But I'm just really proud of my team. These past few weeks, we've been working well as a team. I'm driving a little more relaxed and that helps too. We have some work to do as a company, but we're running decent and we've got something to build from."
ETC.: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer said he's "excited" about the new race chassis the team will be running this weekend in Richmond. "We have been working on it (back at the shop), and I can't wait to see how it races. We have significantly improved our finishes the past few weeks. Our DeWalt team is pretty strong right now, and we're looking forward to this race."
17 RICKY STENHOUSE JR., Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 109 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.
RICHMOND RECORD: Finished 16th in his first Cup start in April.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse feels "the 17 team is improving every week. We got our first pole last weekend, so now we are just looking for our first top-10. We have Nationwide back on our Ford Fusion so we want to get them a solid finish this weekend. If we can get our Ford to turn in the center (of the corner) for a good drive off, I think we will get our first top-10 this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: After winning the first pole position of his young Sprint Cup career, Stenhouse had visions of earning his first top-10 finish of his rookie season. But he never led a lap and had dropped out of the top 10 before the competition yellow flag on lap 26. He ended the night in 16th place. "We had a really frustrating night," said Stenhouse. "We had high hopes going into the race, but our Best Buy Ford started out really tight and wouldn't turn so fell back on the start. We as an organization have to work on the front ends of our cars and get them turning better. I wish we would have had a better showing after such a great start to the weekend."
ETC.: Stenhouse, who won the Nationwide Series championship in 2011 and '12 before moving to the Sprint Cup Series this season, said, "I've learned a lot this year. It's not fun not running up front and being consistently in the top 10 and top five, but that's still our goal. It was good to get something accomplished last week with that pole. We've not gotten much accomplished of what we thought we should. Maybe the goals we were settling are out of reach. But we're still striving to get them. The guys are putting all they've got into it. We want to finish the year on a high note."
31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing