MARCOS Ambrose has been declared the `undisputed’ lead driver for the Richard Petty Motorsports team for this year’s top-level NASCAR series after the departure of team mate AJ Allmendinger.

Richard Petty Motorsport announced yesterday that well-performed second tier racer Aric Almirola will drive the team’s No. 43 Ford Fusion in 2012.

Allmendinger, who finished the 2011 season in 15th place, replaces 2004 Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch at Penske Racing and will drive the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger.

Ambrose confirmed his commitment to the Richard Petty team after a disappointing did-not-finish in the last race of the past season in Miami.

”It’s a bad way to finish the season, but we’ve had a great year and really wanted to finish on a high note … I’m looking forward to 2012 and making it ever better.”

The Launceston-born driver scored his first Sprint Cup win in August when he won at Watkins Glen International, one of two road races in the series, and finished the season in 19th place.

The Watkins Glen victory was his 105th start and he joined Mario Andretti (Italy), Earl Ross (Canada) and Juan Pablo Montoya (Columbia) as the only non-American drivers to win a race in the US’s premier motorsport category.

Writing on the official NASCAR website, commentator Joe Menzer says Ambrose is poised for more success in 2012.

”Ambrose will enter this season as the undisputed top driver at Richard Petty Motorsports in the No. 9 Ford.

”With that comes increased expectations to get to Victory Lane on an oval (track) and contend for a Chase berth.

”This year he seems better prepared for what may lay just ahead.

”If he can contend again on the two Cup road courses and finally get it done on at least one oval (track), his closely-watched season will be considered a success.”

It will be Amrbose’s fourth season of full-time racing in the Sprint Cup series.

Aric Almirola, who finished fourth in the second tier Nationwide Series in 2011, has made 35 starts in the Sprint Cup Series and drove five races for Richard Petty Motorsport in 2010.

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