Mike Ford hired for Aric Almirola

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mike Ford, released by Joe Gibbs Racing last season after guiding Denny Hamlin to six straight Chase appearances, will take over as the crew chief for Aric Almirola at Richard Petty Motorsports.

Ford will replace Greg Erwin with the famous No. 43 that Richard Petty drove to 200 wins and seven titles, beginning with Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Ford led Hamlin to 17 wins and 66 top-5 finishes at JGR before being replaced by Darian Grubb, who led Tony Stewart to the championship last season.

The 42-year-old previously served as the crew chief for Dale Jarrett at Robert Yates Racing and Bill Elliott at Evernham Motorsports.

"Mike Ford is an elite crew chief who knows what it takes to be a winner at this level," said Petty, the co-owner of RPM. "We're fortunate that he was available and that we could reach a deal to bring him over to our place.

"We've taken a lot of big steps at Richard Petty Motorsports in the past year and I think this might be that one piece of the puzzle we were missing."

Almirola is tied with Kasey Kahne for 23rd in points. He has one top 10 in nine races.

"I can't wait to start working with Mike," Almirola said in a statement. "Everyone in the garage respects him and knows what he's capable of. It's a goal of the 43 team to make the Chase this year, and Mike's experience and knowledge can help get us there.

"We've got some ground to make up but I think we can do it."

Ford was fired from JGR after a disappointing 2011 season in which Hamlin finished ninth in points a year after finishing second.

"We had a lot of success together,'' Hamlin said after the dismissal. "He's been the kind of guy who's been the rock on our race team and kept our guys together. Obviously, we need to improve our performance, and we're willing to do whatever it takes.''