2012 season in the rear view: Aric Almirola

Vitals: 20th in the points standings. o wins, 1 top 5, 4 top 10s. 3 DNFs.

Moment to remember: After Richard Petty Motorsports swapped crew chiefs for the final 10 races of the season, Almirola's performance improved after three straight finishes of 26th or worse over the final three races before the Chase.

During the Chase with Todd Parrott as his crew chief, Almirola finished in the top 20 eight times, including a fourth place effort at Martinsville. That wasn't his best performance, though. However, it's in the next section.

Moment to forget: Almirola was dominant in the early stages of the fall Kansas race, leading 69 laps. But then he brushed the wall and was plagued by right front tire problems, problems that were his eventual demise when he smashed the outside wall.

Vitals: Doesn't it seem like Aric Almirola has been around the Cup Series forever? Almirola's been racing in NASCAR's top series since 2007, but has competed in 71 races, just one short of two full seasons. Kind of hard to believe, isn't it?

Almirola proved that he could run up front at Kansas, and qualified in the top five at both Phoenix and Homestead. It'll take a significant leap (or two) for Almirola to be a Chase contender in 2013, but we may look back in a few years and view his performance in the final 10 races as a precursor of things to come.

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