Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing team continues to show improvement with five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races completed in 2018. Almirola left Richard Petty Motorsports in the offseason to join Stewart-Haas Racing with the departure of Danica Patrick. With five events completed, the driver of the No. 10 Ford has two top 10 finishes.
The Florida native nearly went to victory lane in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in the Daytona 500. However, while leading on the last lap going into turn three, Almirola and driver Austin Dillon made contact – sending Almirola into the wall and leaving the 2.5-mile oval with an 11th place finish. As for Dillion, he went on to win the 60th annual event.
Since joining the Stewart-Haas Racing stable, a four-car Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series operation, Almirola has the most resources than ever before in the series. The series veteran with a victory at Daytona in July of 2014 says it’s been incredible and noted how Stewart-Haas Racing conforms around each of their drivers driving style.
“They’ve got fast race cars and they’ve got really smart people and they’ll be able to conform and work around my style and that I don’t have to adapt and drive like anybody else. That’s been the most eye-opening thing for me is that all of those guys are always fast and they always run up front and they qualify up front and they race up front and they all do something different, they all require something different setup-wise, they all do something different on their driver data, so that’s giving me a lot of confidence to just be me, to just go over there and drive the race car like I know how, give them feedback on what I want the race car to do different and they’ll work around it, and we have a group of people and smart people and really fast race cars to be able to adapt.”
With the exception of Phoenix, Almirola hasn’t done statistically well at Daytona, Atlanta, Las Vegas or Fontana. Since the start of the season in 2018, the driver has brought home five consecutive top-15 finishes all on those tracks. Almirola talked about how his confidence is building back up now after joining the new environment and finding success early on at those tracks.
“There was a day and time when I showed up at the race track in other series and I had loads of confidence and knew that I was gonna run good no matter what, and I have been beat down for sure racing at this level over the last several years just not producing the results. That’s hard to swallow. When you grow up and you win races and win state championships and national championships and racing go-karts and racing late models and you’re successful and you work your way up through the ranks and then you get all the way here to the elite and 20th is a good day, that’s hard to adjust to that mentality and it does take a toll on your confidence. So it is gonna take a while to build my confidence back up and get to where I need to be to.”
Almirola says it’s everything behind the scenes at the shop that is contributing to their performance and building confidence. People, resources, wind tunnel time, engineering and attention to every part and piece on the car. All of the things needed to be successful in the sport of NASCAR both from a team and driver standpoint
“You just walk in the shop and it’s everything. It’s people. It’s resources. It’s wind tunnel time. It’s engineering. It’s the attention to detail to every part and piece on the race car and in order to do that you have to have manpower capable of doing that. You can’t take a group of 30 people and make them focus on the thousands of parts and pieces that are on the race car, but you can take 400 people and do that, so increased manpower, increased resources and engineering and technology I think pretty much sums it up.”
The series will re-visit Daytona, Phoenix and Las Vegas later in 2018. Auto Club Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway will not return to the series schedule until 2019. As for this weekend at Martinsville, a track that has been good to the driver in the past, it could result in their first top five of the season if all things go right.
In October of 2012, while racing under the Richard Petty Motorsports banner, Almirola took the No. 43 Ford to a fourth place finish. In April of that year, the driver posted an eighth on the leaderboard.
Holding an average finish of 22.4 at the 0.526-mile oval, Almirola finished 18th in both races at Martinsville Speedway last season. Overall, in 18 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts there, the driver has one top five and three top 10 finishes.
“I really look forward to going to Martinsville. Every time we go there, it’s just fun racing. It’s a love-hate relationship with Martinsville Speedway because it’s tight quarters and it’s easy to get frustrated. You kind of beat and bang with all of your competitors but it’s so cool. It’s one of the coolest places to watch a race, as well.”
This weekend will also serve as a milestone start for the driver. Almirola, since making his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2007, will be making his 250th career start in the premier series.
“I wanted to be dirty and work on racecars. I didn’t care if I made $200 a week, or $200,000 a week. It honestly made no difference to me, I didn’t care. I just wanted to make a living, to be able to wake up in the morning and be a racer. To be able to do it at this level, and to have stayed in the Cup Series for this amount of time and have this opportunity in front of me, it’s incredible to think about my 250th start. I now realize when I look in the mirror and I see the gray hair in my sideburns and in my beard, it all makes sense.”
Since his debut in 2007, Almirola holds one victory, 11 top five, 34 top 10s and one career pole.