Race Weekend Central

RPM Makes Crew Chief Change – Mike Ford Returns to NASCAR

Young Aric Almirola is getting a fresh face to help him man Richard Petty’s famed No. 43. RPM announced a crew chief change Monday, releasing Greg Erwin nine races into 2012 and replacing him with Mike Ford. Ford, the former head wrench for Denny Hamlin at Joe Gibbs Racing has been seeking that level of job since being released by that team at the end of last season.

For Almirola, it’s a clear change of pace after a difficult start to 2012. Twenty-sixth at Richmond Saturday night (April 28), he sits 23rd in the series standings with only one top-10 result, an eighth at Martinsville. That race is also the only one where he’s spent time up front, leading only three laps in total all season.

Overall, RPM has struggled with teammate Marcos Ambrose failing to record a top-10 finish; it’s a shocking series of results considering Ford’s top team, Roush Fenway Racing is leading the points standings with Greg Biffle.

Mike Ford brings that type of championship-level experience to the table. In six full seasons with Hamlin, he made the Chase each year and never finished lower than 12th in points. Collecting 17 victories, 66 top-five finishes and 111 top 10s for JGR, his calm demeanor typically filtered down to those he worked with.

“Mike Ford is an elite crew chief who knows what it takes to be a winner at this level,” confirmed team owner Petty in a press release announcing the move. “We’re fortunate that he was available and that we could reach a deal to bring him over to our place. We’ve taken a lot of big steps at Richard Petty Motorsports in the past year and I think this might be that one piece of the puzzle we were missing.”

Now, it’ll be on the 27-year-old Almirola to produce; he has one top-five result and three top-10 finishes in 44 career Cup Series starts. The move leaves Erwin, once one of the top crew chiefs in the industry looking for work; after pairing with Biffle for four seasons, he partnered with the No. 43 and AJ Allmendinger last July. The team had a strong finish to that season, surging to 15th in points but he was unable to parlay the momentum to his work with Almirola.

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