Aric Almirola will have a new sponsor on his No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Mustang this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway as BlueOval City will be featured. BlueOval City is a 3600-acre campus covering six square miles in western Tennessee and will produce Ford’s next all-new electric truck and batteries to power future Ford and Lincoln vehicles when it opens in 2025. Kel Kearns, Electric Vehicle Center Plant Manager for BlueOval CIty, joined Almirola for a media call earlier today to discuss the partnership.
KEL KEARNS, Electric Vehicle Center Plant Manager, BlueOval City – WHAT IS BLUEOVAL CITY AND WHAT DOES THIS OPPORTUNITY MEAN TO YOU? “Ford is leading the electric revolution with strong plans to create a sustainable automotive manufacturing ecosystem at BlueOval City. We have an electric vehicle center. We have a battery plant and other suppliers that together we’ll be producing the next generation battery electric truck for Ford while creating 6,000 jobs. We’re really excited to be showcasing BlueOval City on Aric’s Ford Mustang this weekend.”
ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 BlueOval City Ford Mustang – WHAT IS IT LIKE FOR YOU TO HAVE NEW PARTNER ON BOARD FOR THIS WEEKEND? “It’s awesome. Obviously, Ford has been a great supporter of mine over the last 11 years. That’s the only Cup car I’ve ever driven has been a Ford, so that’s been fun over the last 11 years and then to see the progression Ford Motor Company has made over those 11 years of me driving a blue oval and to now represent them this weekend at Bristol with BlueOval City and what a phenomenal facility they’re gonna built there. I just hope that the $5.5 billion that they’ve committed to build this facility doesn’t take away from our racing program. Is that OK, Kel?
WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT YOU’RE GOING TO BE REPRESENTING THE FUTURE OF THE COMPANY THIS WEEKEND AT SUCH AN ICONIC RACE? “It means a lot and to do it in the playoffs with a large spotlight on us, do it in Bristol, Tennessee. The new plant is gonna be in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s just a really cool weekend and a great opportunity for me, like you said. Over the last 11 years I’ve seen a lot of progression out of Ford Motor Company. I remember getting to go down in the basement of Ford World Headquarters and I had to give my cell phone to a security guard and wasn’t allowed to take my cell phone in there and I got to go see the clay model of the Ford GT when they were getting ready to come out with that. And then also got to go down there and see when they were developing the Bronco a year before anybody else even knew about it. The same thing with the electric Mustang and getting to see that, so I’ve been able to see the future and the growth of Ford Motor Company over the years through my relationship with them and it has been so much fun for me to be able to see behind the curtain. Here’s another opportunity to be involved in the future of Ford Motor Company and to be able to cast a spotlight on BlueOval City and what a phenomenal place that they’re gonna build there. They’re gonna create between there and BlueOval SK 11,000 new American jobs. It’s just incredible and it’s been really enjoyable to be along for the ride throughout the journey.”
DO YOU FEEL THESE LAST 8 RACES ARE WORKING TOWARD 2023 OR ARE THERE POTENTIALLY TOO MANY CHANGES WITH THE CAR THAT WHAT YOU’RE LEARNING ISN’T AS FOCUSED ON 2023 AS IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN IN PREVIOUS YEARS? “No, we’re working really hard on 2023. The last six races before the playoffs we were really trying to just kind of massage on things and trying to take race cars that we felt like were capable of running seventh to 12th and like fine-tune it hoping that we would hit on that missing ingredient to get to where we needed to be to be a winning race car, and now that we’re out of the playoffs we’ve really used this opportunity as a team, the 10 team individually, we’ve used it as an opportunity to kind of swing for the fences on stuff that is way outside of the box on anything that we’ve looked at previously, and it’s also a big learning curve for our organization. We have a lot of great engineers here that have a lot of bright ideas and often times throughout the middle part of the season we would shoot them down because we’re like, ‘Man, we can’t try that. We only have 15 minutes of practice and what if it doesn’t work? If it doesn’t work, we can’t get it back out of the car.’ So we weren’t really willing to take that risk and especially in the early summer months we were right on the line for the cut off for the playoffs on points, and so we were just trying to be consistent and we couldn’t really take that risk. Now with not being in the playoffs we all kind of held hands and don’t really care about finishing 17th, 18th, 19th in points. It doesn’t really matter as much to us as much as it does to learn as much as we can going into next year so that we can go race for a championship next year. Drew and I had that conversation with our team after we missed the playoffs at Daytona. We came back to the shop and we talked and we said, ‘Hey, I remember a handful of years the 22 car missed the playoffs and came back the next year and won the championship.’ So, we’re not gonna get too upset and hang our heads. We’re just gonna look ahead and focus on getting better for next year.”
ELECTRIFICATION IS COMING DOWN THE ROAD. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THOSE KIND OF CARS? “I’ve driven the Mach-E quite a bit. The people at Ford were gracious enough to let me have one for a week and the kids loved it. We raced every single person we could from a stop light in Mooresville, Cornelius and Kannapolis, North Carolina. Everybody that was willing to race us from a stop light we raced, at least to the speed limit. So, zero to 45 or zero to 55 I don’t think there was a race we lost, so we had a lot of fun with that. It’s quite spectacular what the entire auto industry is doing, but specifically Ford. Having conversations with Jim Farley earlier this year and just his excitement and enthusiasm for where they’re headed as a company and where they’re headed with electrification is fascinating to me because I feel like we’re living in one of those eras to where you’re getting ready to see something spectacular and you’re getting ready to live through it. You think back to when we went from those big heavy muscle cars to lighter weight more aerodynamic more sophistication, more electronics, electronic fuel injection and all those things. My father and grandfather got to live through that transition, so here we are getting ready to live through the transition of seeing more electrification and what the capabilities are. I think that’s the most impressive part from my standpoint is for a guy that likes to hold the steering wheel and to mash the throttle, you want it to be an exciting experience. You want to enjoy driving the vehicle and I’ve been just amazed and fascinated with the vehicles that Ford has put out with electrification.”
KEL KEARNS CONTINUED – YOU’RE ADVERTISING A NEW MANUFACTURING PLANT. IS IT NO ACCIDENT OF THE LOCATION WHERE YOU’RE ON THE CAR? THE PLANT IS IN TENNESSEE AND YOU’LL BE ON THE CAR IN THAT STATE AS WELL. WAS THAT THE IMPETUS BEHIND DOING IT THERE? “It’s a great opportunity to showcase what’s happening in BlueOval City in Tennessee at Bristol and partner with a great event with NASCAR and Aric and his Ford Mustang. Aric really said it well. Electrification is the future. It’s the next generation. It’s exciting new technology, but that doesn’t change what Ford is. Ford is about Ford Performance and racing is part of our DNA, so that’s what we’re going to showcase this weekend as we move forward and showcase BlueOval City on the No. 10 this weekend.”
ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED – WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO HAVE A GREAT PERFORMANCE WITH THIS NEW SPONSORSHIP? “To be totally honest and transparent, that’s the goal every weekend regardless of who is on the car, but certainly when you are representing Ford Motor Company and their new campus that they’re building in Memphis, Tennessee with BlueOval City, and you’re doing it in Bristol, Tennessee, there certainly is an added bonus for running well, getting the TV coverage and the notoriety and all of those things that they deserve. So, yes, I’m excited to have that opportunity. I’m looking forward to it. Nobody really knows what to expect at Bristol, to be totally honest, because this is a very unique racetrack and we have not run there with this car on this configuration. When we ran there earlier this year it was dirt, totally different from what we’re gonna have here this weekend. It’s a bit of an unknown for all of us, but I’m excited. If history has anything to say, Bristol has been a really good racetrack for me throughout my career, so hopefully we can do it right and we can get BlueOval City all the press that they need by going to Victory Lane.”
WHAT WAS THE REASON FOR DECIDING TO COME BACK IN 2023? “That decision ultimately came down to the fact that the sponsor wanted me to stay and asked me to reconsider. The team asked me to stay and to reconsider and I talked with my wife about it, we prayed about it and we just felt like circumstances in our life had changed drastically in the last 12 months since we had previously decided that it would be it. So, for me, my desire to still race was there. I love to drive race cars, but I was willing to sacrifice doing what I love to do for my family. I felt like it was important to not miss out being the husband that I wanted to be and being the dad that I wanted to be, but things change. My kids started at a school to where Fridays were satellite work days, to where they don’t have to go to school on Friday. They can work from home online and turn their work in, and so now we could travel as a family to go to these races because we could leave on Thursday night or Friday morning to make it to the races and my kids weren’t missing school. And the other thing that changed were my kids’ activities. We found activities for them that were during the week, which for my daughter was easy. She was already doing that with theater and horseback riding during the week, but my son was playing baseball and football and those happened on the weekends. The games were on Saturdays and we ended up getting involved with a league in our community where practices are on Monday nights and games are on Tuesday and Thursday nights, so now not only am I not missing games on Saturdays, but I’m actually coaching my son’s baseball team, which has been really enjoyable for me. I feel like a normal dad. I feel like I have that ability to be there and be present and I’m not missing it. If I was gonna continue to miss it, I was totally willing to give up driving a race car. I was not willing to continue watching my son’s baseball games or football games on Facetime or my wife video texting me his at-bats. I wanted to be there. When he did good I wanted to be able to give him a high-five, and when he did something pooly I wanted to be able to talk to him about it and give him a hug, pat him on the butt and tell him to go get it next time. The same for my daughter. I want to be there and want to be present, but now with their activity schedule, their school schedule, they’ve traveled to I think 24 races already this year and they’re gonna go to four or five more before the end of the year, so we’re spending more family time together this year than we have ever in the past, and it’s been enjoyable. For those reasons, we just felt like God had manipulated some things in our lives to make it to where the opportunity was still there and the circumstances matched up to where I was able to say yes.”
IS THERE ANY CHANCE YOU WOULD OWN A TEAM IN THE FUTURE OR RACE PART-TIME IN XFINITY OR TRUCK? “To own a team in the future, probably not. I would say that’s not in the cards for me. Financially, I’m not in a position to do that most likely and even the time commitment that I feel like it would need to take I don’t think I would be willing to do that going forward, but race part-time? Yes, I would love to do that. Once I step away from full-time racing in the Cup Series, I would still have a strong desire to scratch the itch and continue to drive race cars. If the opportunity presented itself to run six, eight, 10 Xfinity races and a handful of Truck races, I would love to do that to still strap in and go drive a race car.”
HOW DIFFICULT WITH IT BE TO RACE WITH THIS CAR ON THE ASPHALT AT BRISTOL? “Well, it’s concrete if we’re being totally accurate here, and I think it is going to be very, very different. I think there’s a lot of unknowns that we’ve already talked about, but some of them are very intricate unknowns, like how aggressive are the bumps gonna be on the racetrack and how low can you get your car without it getting upset from hitting those bumps, and just all those things we don’t have the answers to and we’re gonna have to try and figure it out in 15 minutes of practice. And how is the PJ1 gonna take effect and are we gonna run the bottom predominantly or are we gonna move up? We probably won’t figure that out in 15 minutes of practice because typically when we go to Bristol we practice for an hour and it takes 45 minutes of the hour of practice until we move up the racetrack, so I think even practice will be not the greatest indicator of how the race is gonna play out because I think a lot of things are gonna continue to evolve throughout the weekend.”
HAS THE DECISION TO COME BACK ALLOWED YOU TO RELAX MORE, KNOWING YOU’LL BE BACK? “No, I don’t think so. I was pretty relaxed anyway just thinking about it, not having to deal with the grind anymore to be totally honest. I was ready either way and I live in a pretty relaxed state. I don’t get too hyped up over a whole lot. I don’t get too anxious. There’s a lot of work involved. It’s certainly a grind to go throughout the 38 week stretch, but when I think about having next year honestly it adds a little bit more to the plate. I’m already sitting down thinking about photo shoots and commercial shoots with the marketing department here at the race team for next year. I had a meeting this morning with the suit manufacturer and getting re-measured for fire suits and stuff for next year, so there’s a lot of work that goes into being a race car driver behind the scenes – sponsor-related, media-related, just a lot of different stuff. The workload is pretty high and I think people underestimate that, but I have a great team around me. I have a great team of people and everybody helps to make it work and make it run smoothly.”
DO YOU THINK YOUR RETURN TO SHR HAD AN AFFECT ON THE KYLE BUSCH DECISION TODAY? “I have no idea. I can’t answer that. I was involved to a degree with the race team on trying to help them figure out what the plan was going forward and ultimately they came back and just asked me if I would be willing to reconsider and come back. The same for the sponsor. Outside of that, I don’t have a great answer to your question because I simply don’t know, but what I do know is that I’m gonna go to Bristol, Tennessee this weekend and represent BlueOval City, which I’m pretty fired up about and the reason that we’ve done this Zoom call today.”
Ford Performance PR