Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 43 Farmland Ford Fusion, is currently 10th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings heading into this weekend’s annual Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.  Almirola was a guest on this week’s NASCAR teleconference and spoke about the start to his 2013 season.ARIC ALMIROLA – No. 43 Farmland Ford Fusion – WHAT HAS MADE THE DIFFERENCE IN YOUR TEAM’S CONTINUED SUCCESS?  “I think it’s really Todd Parrott and all the guys he has surrounding him.  This is the same group of guys we had the last 10 races of last year when our performance really elevated and we’ve just really clicked.  Our chemistry has been really strong and we have fast race cars every week.  Right from the very get-go he’s understood me and I’ve understood him and we just know how to get our cars where we want them throughout the weekend for the race, so I’ve been real encouraged.  I was real excited this whole off-season to get going this year because I knew what we were capable of after the last 10 races of last year.  I’ve always been excited to get going and get the season started, but this year more than any other season I’ve been really excited about our potential for success.”WHERE DO YOU FEEL YOUR TEAM IS RIGHT NOW BEING 10TH IN POINTS.  DO YOU FEEL LIKE A TOP-10 TEAM YET?  “I think we’re right on the cusp of that.  I feel like when you really sit down and think about it, you look at the race teams that are on the race track and you’ve got four Hendrick Motorsports cars, three Gibbs cars, the three Roush cars, the two Penske cars and when you start looking at it it’s like, ‘Man, there are a lot of good teams really deep into the field.’  You’ve got three RCR cars and then you throw Richard Petty Motorsports into the mix and I feel like we are right there with those guys.  I feel like it would be crazy for us to think that as new as we are, and the reality is we don’t have the same amount of resources as some of the other teams, it would be crazy for us to think that we’re a championship team at this moment. But I do feel like we’re on the cusp of being a consistent top-10 team.  I felt like Phoenix was a bad day for us and I think we finished 15th, and then Vegas we ran in the top 12 all day and we ended up finishing 16th and we were disappointed again because we finished 16th.  Like Phoenix, we raced up there in the lead or in second with Biffle and I felt like that’s where we belong.  I feel like we’re a competitive race team.  I feel like we can compete with these other teams and I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do with this 43 team and Todd Parrott and the guys we have on our crew.  They bring me fast cars to the race track and they do a lot with probably a lot less than some of the other teams we’re competing against, so I’m just really proud of the effort that we’ve put in and I think we’re picking right up where we left off at the end of 2012.”HOW DO YOU GUARD AGAINST TRYING TO PUSH THE CAR TOO HARD TO GET A TOP FOUR OR FIVE FINISH?  IS THERE A BALANCE YOU HAVE TO DEAL WITH THERE?  “Yeah, absolutely, especially at the beginning of the year.  I made a few mistakes last year at the beginning of the year and we dug ourselves a hole in the points and we never recovered from it.  We spent the whole rest of the year clawing our way to get to 20th in points.  If you look at where we started, I think we finished Daytona in 33rd or something like that, so I went into this year knowing that we were capable of running better, especially at the intermediate tracks and the mile-and-a-half tracks and stuff like that.  The big thing for me the first few weeks of this year was to not make any major mistakes.  I wanted to go out and have solid days – don’t get caught speeding on pit road, keep our track position all day, and just race smart and put ourselves in position to where here in the next few weeks we can go compete and be a legitimate threat for trying to make the Chase.  Right now, I know we’re only three weeks into it, but myself and everybody on our race team feels like that’s a possibility and we just have to keep being smart and take what the races will give us.  If we’ve got a 10th-place car, we need to finish 10th with it, and if we’ve got a car capable of running in the top five, then we need to run in the top five with it, but we can’t push too hard and make a mistake and finish 35th.  That would be really hard for us to rebound from.”HOW DO YOU THINK THE RACING AT BRISTOL MAY OR MAY NOT CHANGE WITH THIS NEW CAR?  “I don’t know, honestly.  I think it’s gonna be more of what we’ve seen in the past.  I think everybody is still trying to get a handle on this new car, so I can’t honestly say what it will do, but I have an opinion and what I think it will do.  I think we’re gonna see people running right up against the fence and I think you’re gonna see people trying to slide-job each other and trying to make the bottom groove work.  I don’t know what the tire is to be honest with you, so I don’t know if Goodyear is bringing the same tire back that we ran last year or if they’re bringing a newer, softer tire, but if we have a newer, softer tire, then the racing will change.  But if we have the same tire as last year, I suspect the racing will be the same.”WHAT CAN YOU DO AT THE SHOP AS A LESSER FUNDED TEAM TO MAKE UP THE DIFFERENCE ON THE BIGGER TEAMS?  “This is something I’ve touched on before and I mean it, we do have less resources.  There’s no doubt about that.  We can’t hide from that.  We understand that.  The only way to overcome that is to have great people and that’s what I feel like we have.  We’ve got a great group of people here at Richard Petty Motorsports.  We’ve got a lot of people that work really, really hard and work extremely long hours to make sure that our cars have every detail and every I and every T is crossed.  That’s really what this car comes down to.  NASCAR has us in a pretty tight box with our rules, so it’s all about the little things and I feel like our race team does a great job of that.  Todd Parrott is probably one of the most detail-oriented crew chiefs that I’ve ever met and he really gets his guys to rally around him and pay attention and focus on the details.  That’s one thing that I feel like we do a great job at is our cars are very detailed and we take advantage of every single thing we can take advantage of.”WHAT KIND OF ROLE DO YOU TRY TO PLAY AT THE SHOP?  “I try to be just a motivator.  I’m actually at the shop right now, but I come to the shop a couple days a week just to tell everybody thank you for all of their hard work.  I know these guys spend a lot of time away from their family.  I’m sure a lot of them eat cold dinners because their families have already eaten and went to bed, so I just try to make a presence here and make sure all of the guys know that I appreciate their hard work and just to keep them motivated and let them know that we can do this and we’re gonna do it and we’re gonna be successful and we’re gonna try to win some races.  But it takes a lot of hard work and I appreciate their hard work.”WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN AT DARLINGTON IN A FEW WEEKS?  “That would be huge.  Let alone the fact that it’s probably one of the bigger races in our industry, and not by pay or anything like that, but just by prestige.  The Southern 500 is a huge deal.  It’s been a great race to win for many, many years dating all the way back to the beginning of NASCAR, so that would be a huge race to win and it would mean a lot to me and our race team and I think it would mean a lot to Richard Petty himself too, just because of all the roots that he has in NASCAR.  I think it would be a really big deal for the 43 to go to Victory Lane at Darlington, which is one of the first race tracks that we still go to.”WHAT’S THE MENTALITY FOR YOU AS A DRIVER KNOWING YOU HAVE BETTER RACE CARS, AND WOULD IT BE SURPRISE TO YOU IF YOU WON SOON?  “I really do feel that way and confidence is key.  I know you guys talk about that all the time and it’s hard to put your finger on how you get it, why you get it and stuff like that, but chemistry is a big deal and confidence is a big deal and, right now, I feel like we’ve got both of those things going.  We show up to the race track and we expect to run in the top 10.  You look at the race teams that compete and consistenly finish in the top 10 and top 15, eventually they win races and we think the same thing.  We feel like if we continue to put ourselves in position to run in the top 10 and be contenders that that one day will come where things go our way and we’ve got a fast car and we get track position at the end of the race and we go out and win.  That’s really what we’re focused on.  At the beginning of the year we sat down and made a list of goals and that is number one on our list of goals is to put that 43 car back in Victory Lane.”