DAYTONA BEACH — Drivers and crew members were quick-stepping through an emptying garage area about an hour before the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday night, and Aric Almirola was on the hunt. He stopped to pat a shoulder at the Red Bull hauler, waved to a Penske crewman, chatted up Michael Waltrip Racing general manager Ty Norris.
"Looking for a job, man," the 25-year-old Tampa native said. "At least nobody is shooing me away."
This was supposed to be Almirola's first full season at NASCAR's highest level, as Mark Martin's replacement in the No. 8 Chevrolet at Dale Earnhardt Inc. But as the economy sunk, DEI merged with Chip Ganassi Racing, their five combined Cup programs withered to two, and sponsorship for the No. 8 car ran out after seven races.
Earnhardt/Ganassi could have an opening in 2009 if, as expected, Martin Truex announces this week he will leave for MWR, but Almirola said he had not spoken with Ganassi about it.
"That's not up to me," he said. "Those have been internal discussions that really have not involved me. Whatever happens I will be ready, race there or race somewhere else."
Almirola said Ganassi has suggested he would allow him to leave if he finds work elsewhere.
Almirola, a former winner in the Nationwide series who has twice had a team dissolve under him since he left Joe Gibbs Racing's developmental program in 2007, has run a Nationwide race for Curtis Key and three truck races for Billy Ballew (finishing fourth at Memphis) this season.
MAYFIELD SPEAKS: Driver/owner Jeremy Mayfield said a statement during the drivers' meeting he hoped to race next Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway. Mayfield, suspended indefinitely after a failed drug test — NASCAR later identified the drug as methamphetamine — was granted a temporary injunction by a federal judge on Wednesday but said in the statement "we had less than twenty-four hours to prepare the car, assemble a team, get sponsorship and travel to Daytona. Ultimately, we were unable to get this done in time."
Mayfield compared the "pain" of the past two months to the death of his father in 2007 and said the ensuing controversy is "the last thing (wife) Shana or I want for anybody."
ALL THE KING'S MEN: Richard Petty, wearing a white firesuit reminiscent of those he wore in winning a record 200 NASCAR races, was honored on the 25th anniversary of his final victory in the Firecracker 400. Petty posed with the Sprint Cup field and a banner reading "One King, 200 Wins, 25 Years Later, Congratulations Richard."
HALL PASS: Three-time series champion Darrell Waltrip says he'd like to be inducted with NASCAR's first Hall of Fame class in May, but admits his credentials likely aren't quite adequate. The grand opening, he said, would be the perfect time to squeeze in a few more.
"They've got this great big building and they're going to have five people they induct first time in," he said. "That's selfish on my part. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get in on the first round. … The important thing is you're in eventually."