BRISTOL, Tenn. — Tampa native Aric Almirola made his first appearance of the season a memorable one in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, finishing eighth in the car he co-drives with Mark Martin.
Almirola, who turned 24 on Friday, raced in six Cup events in 2007, with a best finish of 26th at Phoenix. He's scheduled to run about a dozen races this year when Martin isn't behind the wheel of the No. 8 Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc.
"It feels awesome. To go out and knock the cobwebs off and finish eighth makes my job easy when the car runs as good as it did," Almirola said. "I don't want to sit on the pit box no more! It is what it is. I get to race 12 races and I'll hopefully go get 12 top 10s."
Almirola started 2007 with Joe Gibbs Racing, but asked for his release when it became clear the team didn't have much seat time for him. He moved to Ginn Racing and was absorbed in the merger with DEI that earned him split seat time with Martin.
Now, after his first start of the season, he said he's ready to run up front.
"I've been telling all these guys on this crew for so long now throughout my career … I tried hard to run all the laps and learn as much as I could," he said.
"I've got my elbows up and I'm going to go out there and race with these guys."
SWANSONG: Dale Jarrett finished 37th in the final start in a points race of his 24-year career.
The former series champion is retiring this season, and will race one last time in the Sprint Cup All-Star race in May.
"Well, it wasn't the finish I would have liked," Jarrett said. "But I really can't be too upset when you take into consideration the kind of career I have been fortunate enough to have."
Jarrett, 51, was honored before the race. NASCAR president Mike Helton began the festivities in the driver meetings by calling Jarrett to the front of the room to present him with a commemorative collage of photos spanning his career.
"Dale, you have been great ambassador, a great person, a classic role model for many of us in this sport," Helton said.
The 42 other drivers and crew chiefs then gave Jarrett, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and the 1999 Cup champion, a standing ovation.