Almirola to Pilot No. 8 Car Full Time in 2009

After spending two seasons sharing a car with veteran Mark Martin, 24-year-old Aric Almirola will take over the No. 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chevrolet full time in 2009.

“This is an incredibly exciting opportunity," said Almirola. “When you get into racing, you always dream of competing at the highest level and I’ve had the chance to do that on a limited basis for the past two seasons. Now I will have the opportunity to race the car full time and I could not be more excited about driving the No. 8 car each week for Dale Earnhardt Inc.

“This is a really great race team to work with. (Crew Chief) Tony Gibson and these guys have put me in really good race cars this season and they’ve never treated me like a rookie. They are committed to being competitive every week and I’m really looking forward to working with them on a weekly basis next season."

Almirola, from Tampa, Fla., began sharing the Sprint Cup ride with Martin during the second half of the 2007 season and has continued in that role in 2008. During his 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, the rookie driver has shown vast improvement, posting a top-10 finish in his debut this season at Bristol and qualifying third a week later at Martinsville.

“There is no doubt Aric is ready to go full time," said Martin, who helped bring Almirola to Dale Earnhardt Inc. after its merger last summer with Ginn Racing. “Aric is an incredible talent and a true student of the sport. Having him run a full-time program in the No. 8 was always part of the plan, but his development has allowed us to accelerate things. There is a lot of sponsorship excitement surrounding Aric and he is a sought-after guy. Driving that 8 car has been a tremendous honor for me given the respect I have for Dale Earnhardt and DEI, but it is also a great honor to be able to turn over the driving duties of that car to a young man that is destined for great things. Tony Gibson’s team is one of the best teams in the sport, and Aric should have immediate success once he is in the car each week."

Martin, who has driven the No. 8 in 12 events this season, will compete in 12 more races this year before moving to another team for the 2009 campaign. Almirola will compete in the balance of the season’s seven races. In addition to his time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Almirola has made 27 starts in the Nationwide Series, earning four poles and one win at Milwaukee in 2007.

“With Aric running a full-time schedule in 2009 we will have a group of immensely talented drivers with long careers in front of them and we like our position for the future and know that Aric will get the job done," said John Story, vice president of motorsports operations for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. “We appreciate everything Mark continues to do for the company. Since we first discussed with Mark our plans for Aric he was 100 percent supportive and has done everything within his power to make it work and allow us to build a program around Aric. Mark has said many times he will help DEI in any manner necessary, and his commitment to the team and to Aric in this regard is beyond compare."

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