JR Motorsports (JRM) this year has been trying a group of various drivers to see who’ll be driving the No. 88 full-time next year in the Nationwide Series.
The recent addition to the seat, Aric Almirola, has looked promising as he finished third with the team at O’Reilly Raceway Park on Saturday.
“I’m just really proud of [this] finish,” Almirola told Scene Daily . “It was a very big morale booster after the way we ran [in trucks]. I’m thankful for the opportunity and hopefully that will bring many more.”
Despite that, JRM’s competition director Tony Eury Sr. says it’s very unlikely as he sees Almirola finding a Cup ride next year.
Almirola has run Cup in the past as he ran some races with Bobby Ginn and Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI), which resulted in a top 10 at Bristol. Though Almirola was let go due to lack of sponsorship in the DEI program.
Almirola says, despite Eury’s words, that he should be considered for the ride next year.
“Obviously it was a tryout,” Almirola said. “I feel like they’re going through a lot of young guys just to see how everybody does and how everybody runs.
“I’d love any opportunity that was presented...After the last couple of years I’ve had, to be knocked down and almost kicked out and to be able to come back and rebound myself in this sport, any opportunity I get, I’m just very thankful for and don’t take anything for granted.”
Almirola has run 32 Nationwide races to date and his third place finish at ORP was the third of his career. He does have one win listed to his name, however, he doesn’t consider it an official win as recall that was the race that he was replaced by Denny Hamlin partway through.
For now, Almirola is currently going to focus on the Camping World Truck Series as he has no more races planned on the Nationwide schedule this year for now. Currently he sits second in the standings, 177 points behind leader Todd Bodine, driving the No. 51 truck for Billy Ballew.
Also from Pocono until Walkin’s Glen, he will stand by as backup driver to Jeff Gordon incase Gordon’s wife Ingrid goes into labor. Almirola played the same role for Gordon’s teammate Jimmie Johnson earlier this year.
“Our primary focus is to go there and run good with our truck program,” Almirola said. “We’re still in the hunt for the championship, so we want to go and do that. I’ll be there if they need be. I’m just thankful to continue my relationship with Hendrick Motorsports. I’m having a lot of fun over there and learning a lot.
“I can’t thank those people enough for keeping me in the loop and just go there and be there if they need me.”
With regards to who else could be in the No. 88 full-time next year, the other two drivers that it looks to be narrowed down to are Steve Arpin and Josh Wise.
Arpin had his first Top 10 back at Daytona in July and finished 13th at Gateway, despite ending up in the last lap crash with Keselowski and others.
Arpin was considered for the spot after winning two ARCA races earlier this year at Salem and Texas for Venturini Motorsports.
“To be racing for one of the premiere teams in the garage in JR Motorsports is a dream come true for me," he told me. "I want to focus on finishing every race. There has been a couple times this season where we've been caught up in some accidents. So if we can avoid some of those situations, I think you'll see this us somewhere in the Top 10."
Arpin has done well so far, impressing JRM co-owner and crew chief Tony Eury Jr.
“Steve has impressed us with what he's been able to do in the No. 7 Chevrolet with his limited experience," Tony Eury Jr. told me back in June. "There's no doubt the kid has a lot of talent, especially with what he's been able to do dirt racing. He had a couple great qualifying efforts at Talladega and Charlotte over the past few weeks."
"He did have his work cut out for him at Richmond and Darlington, which are two of the toughest tracks we race at. Being a rookie in the series it's not easy to run at those facilities. We've had some growing pains, and caught some bad luck with a couple wrecks, but overall, he's shown promise.”
Wise has also ran good as he finished 16th at ORP and eighth a week earlier at Gateway.
Wise was considered for the spot after being dropped from a development contract with Michael Waltrip Racing that had him showing promise in the Nationwide Series.
In other news surrounding the No. 88 team, after their third place run at ORP with Almirola, the left front shock was confiscated in post-race inspection as it failed to rebound. Any penalties towards the team will be announced either later today or Wednesday.