Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway ready to start the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs after a 23rd-place finish Monday in the rain-delayed Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the final race of the regular season.
Almirola secured his second career berth in the Cup Series playoffs at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway earlier this month. The Smithfield driver and his 15 fellow playoff competitors begin their quest for the NASCAR Cup Series championship for the first time at Las Vegas, and this weekend marks the first time the series has visited the 1.5-mile desert oval twice in the same year. Conditions are expected to be night-and-day different than during their March visit as ambient temperatures are expected to climb well into the triple digits.
Almirola earned one of his 10 top-10 finishes this season in the March race at Las Vegas, his best career finish at the track, and he was the second-highest-finishing SHR driver as Kevin Harvick scored the victory that day. In his 10 starts at Las Vegas, Almirola has a best qualifying position of seventh, earned in March 2016.
In Almirola’s seven starts at 1.5-mile tracks at this season, he has three top-10 finishes and has started in the top-10 three times. At the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, he led a season-high 70 laps.
The 34-year-old Almirola previously contended for the championship in 2014. This season also marks the first time crew chief John Klausmeier enters the playoffs in his role as the leader of a team. Klausmeier is the only first-year crew chief in the running for this year’s ultimate prize. Even though it’s the University of Maryland, Baltimore County graduate’s freshman year as a crew chief, he’s experienced when it comes to playoff pressure from his engineering tenure with SHR driver Kurt Busch.
SHR has enjoyed its most successful season as a four-car contingent in 2018. SHR is the only four-car team to have all of its entries in the playoff field.
Almirola has four NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Las Vegas and earned a best finish of 11th in March 2015. Additionally, he has three starts in the NASCAR Camping World Series with all three finishes inside the top-10 with four laps led.
Fans can still enter for their chance to win Smithfield’s Smoke Machine Mustang designed by team co-owner Tony Stewart with the help of drifting champion Vaughn Gittin Jr. They helped create a one-of-a-kind Ford Mustang RTR Spec 3 that will be given away to one lucky fan. Fans can register for their chance to win the suped-up Mustang and a trip to November’s Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead by visiting SmithfieldRacing.com, or by texting SMOKE to 82257.
Las Vegas marks the 24th points-paying event during which the Smithfield livery has adorned Almirola’s No. 10 Ford Fusion. Smithfield, a brand of Smithfield Foods, which is based approximately five hours northeast of SHR headquarters in Smithfield, Virginia, is in its seventh season with Almirola and its first with SHR. Founded in 1936, Smithfield is a leading provider of high-quality pork products, with a vast product portfolio including smoked meats, hams, bacon, sausage, ribs, and a wide variety of fresh pork cuts.
In 26 Cup Series outings this year, Almirola has an average start of 17.8 and an average finish of 14.3, with one top-five finish and 10 top-10s. He’s also led 115 laps this season, already a career best. Almirola rounds out the four-driver SHR contingent at 14th in the point standings. The season’s consistency on the track allowed Almirola to clinch his playoff spot.