By Lee Montgomery
Special to Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
NASCAR Nationwide Series regulars Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier have won two of the last three races in the series.
"I'd love for it to be my turn," JR Motorsports driver Aric Almirola said.
Almirola is fifth in the Nationwide points standings, just behind third-place Stenhouse and fourth-place Allgaier. And Almirola, coming off a season-best fourth-place finish at Chicago, was a winner at the site of this Saturday's Alliance Truck Parts 250, Michigan International Speedway, in the Camping World Truck Series in 2010.
"I show up to the race track thinking it's going to be my turn," Almirola said. "I feel like we're getting our program better, and we've been working really hard at trying to make our cars better. We started off the year not as good as we wanted to be, and we've seen progression throughout the year.
"I'd love to sit here and tell you I'm going to go win at Michigan. I won there last year in the truck race and I really enjoy racing at Michigan. I would love to go up there and win again, but you just don't ever know."
Almirola is making an honest assessment of his No. 88 Chevrolet team, especially when compared to the stiff competition in the Nationwide Series these days, not only from Sprint Cup drivers, but as we've seen in the last month, Nationwide regulars.
Many considered Almirola to be one of the top non-Cup drivers in Nationwide in 2011, especially after four top-10 finishes in eight races at the end of last year. But most of those races were in the older-generation car, and the switch to the new NASCAR-certified chassis has proved to be a struggle for JRM.
"At JR Motorsports, we had a lot of success with the old car," Almirola said. "We ran really well with that old car. It just seemed like this new car kind of threw us a curveball."
Even Almirola admitted he needed to work on his driving to suit the new car.
"We're still not there, and we know that," Almirola said. "But we've slowly been getting it better and better. I've been happy to see the progress we've made as a company."
Almirola didn't get his first top 10 in 2011 until the fourth race at Bristol, and he's had 10 finishes between ninth and 15th place.
But he and crew chief Tony Eury Sr. seem to have things going better, as he's been in the top 10 in three of the last four races. And despite the slow start, he's only 46 points behind series leader Reed Sorenson.
"The championship is obviously something we've got our eyes set on," Almirola said. "That's a goal for us. But the reality is we've got to work on getting our stuff to run better before we even worry about that championship."
What: Alliance Truck Parts 250
Where: Michigan International Speedway; Brooklyn, Mich.
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. Eastern
TV: ABC, 3 p.m. Eastern
Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 90
Track layout: 2-mile oval
Race distance: 125 laps/250 miles
Qualifying: Saturday, 11:10 a.m. Eastern
2010 winner: Brad Keselowski
2010 polesitter: Brad Keselowski
Points standings: 1. Reed Sorenson, 488; 2. Elliott Sadler, 486; 3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 482; 4. Justin Allgaier, 477; 5. Aric Almirola, 442; 6. Jason Leffler, 437; 7. Kenny Wallace, 417; 8. Steve Wallace, 385; 9. Brian Scott, 366; 10. Michael Annett, 346.