DARLINGTON, S.C. – In keeping with the homage to NASCAR history at Darlington Raceway, Aric Almirola showed up with a Fu Manchu mustache grown as a tribute to his boss, team owner Richard Petty.
Hoping to race his way into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, as he did last year, Almirola will be driving the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford—complete with throwback STP paint scheme—in Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 (7 p.m. ET on NBC).
Perhaps the moustache will bring him luck.
“I have about five days with this,” said Almirola, who is 16th in the series standings and 35 points outside of a Chase-eligible position with two races left before the cutoff at Richmond. “I wasn’t fully committed. I shaved last week on vacation when I went to dinner with my wife and I got cleaned up.
“After that, I kind of just let it go crazy and I had a few drinks out on the beach and thought it would be cool to grow this. I got a late start. I would like for it to be a little fuller, but this is all I’ve got for now.”
It was full enough, however, to get a positive reaction from Petty.
“He saw it and he actually liked it,” Almirola said. “He said he won the Daytona 500 with a mustache that looked just like this. We’ll see if we can’t win the Southern 500 with one.”
Though Almirola currently is one spot out of the Chase, 35 points behind Clint Bowyer, the driver of the No. 43 Ford remains optimistic about his chances.
“I think when you are mathematically still in–until somebody tells us we’re not—I feel like we have a shot,” Almirola said. “I’ve been really proud of what we have accomplished this year. Last year, we were 25th or 26th in points, but we made the Chase because we won at Daytona.
“This year, I feel like if we made the Chase we certainly earned it.”