DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Tampa, Fla., native Aric Almirola put the famed No. 43 U.S. Air Force Ford of Richard Petty Motorsports on the pole Thursday night for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and earned his first career start in next year’s Daytona Shootout at Daytona International Speedway.

Almirola posted a speed of 192.940 mph around the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway to earn his first career Sprint Cup pole. He becomes the 18th driver to lock up a spot in the star-studded field of top drivers that will compete in the fan favorite event that kicks off Budweiser Speedweeks 2013.

“Richard asked me when we were standing over there in Victory Lane taking pictures he was like, ‘Well, did you scare yourself?’  And the answer is no,” Almirola said.  “When they drive that good they’re really not that scary.  It was a fast lap.  I knew I hit my marks and I knew the car did a lot of things it didn’t do in practice when the heat was on the race track, so I knew it was gonna be fast, but I didn’t realize it was gonna be that fast.  I’m just proud of everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports.”

Eligibility requirements for next season’s Daytona Shootout return to its roots with the field consisting of pole winners and past Shootout winners who have attempted to qualify for at least one race during the 2012 season.

2012 Pole Winners:
Greg Biffle
Carl Edwards
Denny Hamlin
Kasey Kahne
Mark Martin
Martin Truex Jr.
AJ Allmendinger
Aric Almirola
Past Shootout champions:
Kyle Busch
Kurt Busch
Kevin Harvick
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Tony Stewart
Jimmie Johnson
Jeff Gordon
Bill Elliott
Terry Labonte
Ken Schrader

The stars of NASCAR return to Daytona International Speedway on July 6-7, 2012.  Tickets to the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, featuring a special hour-long pre-race concert by multiplatinum, Grammy-winning superstars Train, and the Subway Jalapeno 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race are available by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or online at

Fans can also stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter ( and Facebook ( for all the latest news all season long.