It's the continuation of a wild NASCAR off-season.

Filling one good ride opens another.

As expected, Aric Almirola was named Wednesday as driver of the legendary No. 43 of Richard Petty Motorsports in Sprint Cup competition for the 2012 season. The Observer and first reported that Almirola had become the leading candidate for the ride on Dec. 23.

Almirola, 27, finished fourth in points in the Nationwide Series in 2011 with JR Motorsports, which is co-owned by Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. Almirola had seven top-five and 18 top-10 finishes and won one pole.

In 73 starts, he has one Nationwide win, in a 2007 race at Milwaukee that he started but Denny Hamlin finished.

“This is the first real opportunity I’ve had to drive in the Cup Series full time,” Almirola said. “Last year the No. 43 team had a lot of speed and was competitive on a weekly basis.

“Greg Erwin is a great crew chief and I’m excited to work with him. Everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports has a lot of enthusiasm and drive, and I’m really looking forward to getting to work.”

Hours after Almirola's hiring at RPM was formalized, JR Motorsports also tapped his replacement for the No. 88 team – Truck series driver Cole Whitt.

"Cole is the guy we wanted, and we’re lucky to get him,” Earnhardt said. “He’s got raw, untapped talent, but we are most impressed with his ambition.

“I sought advice and input from people I respect in the industry, and the overwhelming consensus was that Cole has the potential to do great things in this sport.”

Whitt, a 20-year-old native of Alpine, Calif., will also compete for rookie-of-the-year honors in the series. In the Truck series last season, he finished ninth in points with one pole, two top-five and 11 top-10 finishes.

He is the youngest driver to win the USAC (United States Auto Club) National Midget championship (2008).