As Richard Petty strolled through the concourse of Kansas City's Memorial Hall, fans streamed towards him with pens an memorabilia for the seven-time Sprint Cup champion to sign.
Others stood and watched, wondering who in the heck that man in the black cowboy hat could be that was causing such a commotion for a few people.
In a way, the varying reactions from fans served as a metaphor for Petty's team's season. At times, both Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose have been noticeable. Other times, their performances have been, well, anonymous.
"Up and down. It started way down," Petty said about his race team's progression over the past two seasons. "If you look at the overall deal it’s been better, better and better. Where we’re hurting a little bit is not consistent. We’ve been really super good one week and not so good. That’s our main deal and we know it’s going to take time to do that."
Proof of that consistency issue? Ambrose's ninth place finish and Almirola's 10th place finish at Kansas marked the first time all season that both Richard Petty Motorsports drivers had finished in the top 10 in the same race. Afterwards, both were thrilled, especially Ambrose. He spun to bring out one of Sunday's 15 cautions. But that spin ended up putting him on a strategy that had him fourth for the final restart.
[Power Rankings: And then there were two]
"It felt like a win as far because I thought our day was done," Ambrose said.
"We got a top 10 and I would have never told you that was possible (Saturday) in practice," Almirola said.
Almirola is 18th in the points standings and Ambrose is 20th. That's the reverse of where they finished last year.
"This year we started out really strong and we were up in the top 12 in points and looked like we were going to have a shot to make the Chase and throughout the summer months we just didn’t keep that mojo that we had at the beginning of the year," Almirola said.
Through the first 13 races, the No. 43 was in the top 12. But those Chase chances were over after Daytona where a crash dropped them to 19th.
For Ambrose, it's been a trying season -- "a wash" as he termed it before the weekend began -- and is encapsulated perfectly by Watkins Glen in August. After leading 51 laps in a bid to win a third straight race at the road course, he had a flat tire and was caught up in a crash in the esses. After three top fives a year ago, none have been on the docket this season.
Though perhaps Sunday was a sign of the optimism that Petty shared Thursday. For a team without title aspirations, a good Chase performance can still
"When we started (with the new car at the beginning of the season), nobody knew what was going on so we were as good as anybody," Petty said. "We trucked along there and everything went pretty good and we just didn’t expand quick enough. We got behind the curve and are just now getting back to where we should have been three or four months ago."
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- Marcos Ambrose
- Aric Almirola
- Richard Petty Motorsports