ARIC ALMIROLA – 2018 Daytona 500 Race Advance

The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series kicks off at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway with the 60th running of the Daytona 500 with Aric Almirola piloting the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). This year marks the 11th season behind the wheel of a stock car in NASCAR’s most elite series for the native of Tampa, Florida.

Almirola reunites with several former co-workers from his past, including John Klausmeier, the leader of the No. 10 team whose 2018 season will be his first as a full-time crew chief calling the shots from atop the pit box. The 37-year-old from Perry Hall, Maryland, spent the last several seasons as an engineer under longtime Cup Series crew chief and current SHR production manager Tony Gibson. Almirola will pilot the black-and-white Ford Fusion with Smithfield branding for Daytona Speedweeks and for a majority of the season.

Smithfield, a brand of Smithfield Foods, which is based approximately five hours northeast of SHR headquarters in Smithfield, Virginia, enters its seventh season with Almirola and 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.

Almirola is the newest driver among SHR’s four-car contingent, joining veterans Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick. The 33-year-old driver is looking forward to getting to know his teammates better and being an integral part of the two-time championship-winning organization.

“Obviously, we see each other every week at the racetrack and there is that peer relationship, acquaintance relationship,” Almirola said. “I am the kind of guy who for the most part is pretty easy to get along with. I don’t create a lot of turmoil or animosity. I’ve never had negative interactions with any of my new teammates. I can’t say that I’m friends with them or have a great relationship with them, but that is coming. I plan that, by a few races into the season, I’ll have a great relationship with those guys. I want to help. I want to be part of the team and contribute to Stewart-Haas Racing and help put banners up inside the shop. I want to be a contributing factor to the race team. I am a firm believer that high tide raises all ships. If I can go and do my part and do my job and contribute, then hopefully we will all run better together.”

Almirola has found himself in victory lane at the 2.5-mile Daytona superspeedway multiple times. His Cup Series win there came in July 2014. He led 14 laps and captured the win in the rain-shortened race. Most recently, he led the most important lap – the final one – in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race in July 2016 at the high-banked superspeedway. Even though he’s accomplished his goal of winning at his home track, Almirola looks to add the famed Harley J. Earl trophy to his collection.

“Everybody loves to go to Daytona, but for me it has a little extra special meaning because I grew up in Tampa, Florida,” he said. “It’s just a couple of hours away across the state on Interstate 4. I grew up as a kid dreaming about racing at Daytona. Not only do I now have that privilege, but I’ve been fortunate enough to go to victory lane. I haven’t done it in February yet, though, and winning the Daytona 500 is the ultimate – you’re forever the Daytona 500 champion.”

While this year’s Daytona Speedweeks mark the first time Almirola and the No. 10 crew will work together in an official race capacity, the Smithfield crew tested Jan. 9 and 10 at Texas Motor Speedway for the first time in a two-day Goodyear tire test.

Rejuvenated for the 2018 season, Almirola spent most of his free time during the offseason visiting the SHR shop on an almost daily basis in preparation for his seventh full-time season piloting a 3,300-pound vehicle around racetracks throughout the United States. In addition to visiting with his new coworkers at SHR, Almirola has been busy with preseason media, including visiting the Miami area in mid-January to promote the Daytona 500. Smithfield also participated in the media tour by donating $6,010 to Feeding South Florida – 60 signifying the 60th running of the Daytona 500, and 10 signifying the number adorning Almirola’s Ford Fusion. Between the two busy Daytona weekends, the Florida native will be returning Tuesday, Feb. 13, to Pierce (Fla.) Middle School in Tampa, where Almirola’s parents met and attended.

 

ARIC ALMIROLA, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

How do you feel going into this season with a new team?

“I’ve been through six full seasons in the Cup Series and they’ve been average, so I’ve got a new opportunity and a new chance in my career to go out and prove what I’m capable of. I’m so excited about this opportunity with Stewart-Haas Racing and having Smithfield as the sponsor, and continuing to drive Ford Fusions. I’m so fired up about my opportunity to go out this year and perform at a high level every week.”

You have a little history working with your new No. 10 team crew chief, John Klausmeier. Can you provide background on that relationship?

“I had the opportunity to work a lot with Johnny at Dale Earnhardt Inc. He kind of headed up the engineering group for all of the tests. We would go and test what seemed to be like every week back when you could test all the time. I’ve had a relationship with him that dates all the way back to 2007. For us to come full circle is neat, and for him to get this opportunity to be a full-time crew chief, he certainly deserves it. He’s a very smart, talented engineer and has a passion for racing. I’m excited for him as much as I’m excited about my opportunity. We get along great, we’re young, we’re like-minded people and we both enjoy similar things and each other’s company.” 

You’ve worked with Tony Stewart before. How does it feel to work with a legend and under his leadership?

“Tony has been great to me. From the time I moved to North Carolina in 2004 – he really took me under his wing. I started driving a Late Model for Joe Gibbs Racing and he was someone that I really looked up to, and he befriended me. At 19 years old, he took me under his wing and would let me go test his Cup car with Greg Zipadelli as his crew chief. He really got me started driving the stock cars and gave me the confidence that I could do it. He believed in me and that was big for me. Through the years our friendship has really grown and, finally, we now have the opportunity to work together again. I’ve been wanting to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing for a while now. They’ve won championships and a lot of races in their short existence as a team.” 

How has the transition been for you to Stewart-Haas Racing?

“The transition to Stewart-Haas Racing has been really easy. They have so many talented people that they just make the transition easy. Everybody from the marketing and PR side to the personnel on the shop floor and the guys on the team. It has been great. That transition has been fun. It has been easy, fun, all of the above. I have just been really looking forward to getting to the racetrack to go race. Changing teams is a big undertaking. I would say that the most challenging thing has been learning 380 employees’ names and faces. That is one of the most challenging things. Besides that, just all the little things like getting your seat right, and going and trying to work with a new team and new pedals and new seat and seat insert – all those things to make sure I am comfortable when the season starts inside the racecar.”

KURT BUSCH – 2018 The Clash Race Report

Event:               Advance Auto Parts Clash (non-points race)
Series:               Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Location:          Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway (2.5-mile oval)
Format:             75 laps, broken into two segments of 25 laps and 50 laps
Start/Finish:      14th/3rd (Running, completed 75 of 75 laps)
Race Winner:    Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

SHR Finish:     

  • Kurt Busch (Started 14th, Finished 3rd / Running, completed 75 of 75 laps)
  • Kevin Harvick (Started 9th, Finished 9th / Running, completed 75 of 75 laps)

Notes:              

  • On lap 25, while in 13th positon, Busch pitted for four tires and fuel. No adjustments were made.
  • Busch made slight contact with Jamie McMurray on lap 33. He had to pit to repair the right-front of his car and get four tires and fuel. He restarted 16th.
  • He ran fifth for the last third of the race.
  • On the last lap of the race, Busch was on the backstretch when Kyle Larson’s car got into the car of Jimmie Johnson. Busch got by without any contact and brought his No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion to a third place finish.
  • Field was comprised of 2017 pole winners, former Clash winners, former Daytona 500 pole winners and 2017 playoff participants. 

Kurt Busch, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing: 

“Project number one was to do all the laps so that we could understand more about our tires and our setup and the way that the car was going to handle. Then step number two was to have fun. I had a blast. I wanted to make another move on the last lap but ran out of steam because the guys behind me got too wide. I couldn’t jump in there and go after the Penske guys. It is a good day for Ford and good day for us and Billy Scott, my new crew chief. Now we will go back and debrief about our car.” 

Next Up:

The Can-Am Duel – twin 150-mile races which will set the Daytona 500 field – takes place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 15 with live coverage on FS1. Speedweeks at Daytona then culminates with the Daytona 500 at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 18, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 1 p.m.

KEVIN HARVICK – 2018 The Clash Race Report

Event:               Advance Auto Parts Clash (non-points race)
Series:               Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Location:          Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway (2.5-mile oval)
Format:             75 laps, broken into two segments of 25 laps and 50 laps
Start/Finish:      9th/9th (Running, completed 75 of 75 laps) 
Race Winner:    Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

SHR Finish:     

  • Kurt Busch (Started 14th, Finished 3rd / Running, completed 75 of 75 laps)
  • Kevin Harvick (Started 9th, Finished 9th / Running, completed 75 of 75 laps)

Notes:              

  • Harvick started ninth, but dropped to 12th in the opening laps.
  • The race ran under the green flag until the mandatory caution on lap 25.
  • The No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Fusion stayed out and finished first in the first segment.
  • Harvick pitted on lap 26 and began the final segment in 11th.
  • Harvick raced in ninth when the race’s only unplanned caution fell at lap 33 for Jamie McMurray’s accident.
  • The No. 4 Busch Beer team pitted again on lap 35 under caution.
  • Harvick fell out of the draft on lap 45 dropping from fifth to 15th.
  • Harvick never returned to the front of the field and finished ninth after avoiding a last-lap wreck.
  • Field was comprised of 2017 pole winners, former Clash winners, former Daytona 500 pole winners and 2017 playoff participants. A random draw determined starting positions.

Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing: 

What did you learn today? “I just got myself in a couple bad spots by making moves and trying to do some things I didn’t need to be doing in a single-file race. It’s one of those things where I got myself in a bad spot, got up toward the front and then got shuffled back. I got to the back and tried to start playing around with things to try and make some progress. I went to pull up on the next to last car and I slowed down so much that I lost the draft. I just made a mistake.”

Next Up:

The Can-Am Duel – twin 150-mile races which will set the Daytona 500 field – takes place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 15 with live coverage on FS1. Speedweeks at Daytona then culminates with the Daytona 500 at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 18, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 1 p.m.

 

WIX® Filters Becomes Official Filter of Stewart-Haas Racing

WIX® Filters, a global manufacturer of filtration products with more than 50 years of motorsports experience, has joined Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) as the team’s official filter. WIX Filters will be outfitted on all of SHR’s racecars, with the championship-winning NASCAR team fielding four entries in the elite Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and two entries in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.

The 2018 season marks SHR’s 10th anniversary, with the organization having won two NASCAR Cup Series titles (2011 and 2014) and 42 races since debuting in 2009.

“Stewart-Haas Racing has an incredibly successful history and we’re looking forward to WIX Filters technology contributing to even more of that history as the 2018 season unfolds,” said Jennifer Gibson, brand manager, WIX Filters. “It’s a point of pride when crew members working on the racecars come up and tell you they like using your products and they have great confidence that WIX Filters will get the job done every weekend.”

WIX Filters will have brand identification beneath the hoods of SHR’s Ford Fusions in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and its Ford Mustangs in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.

“WIX Filters’ involvement with Stewart-Haas Racing is more than skin deep,” said Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition, SHR. “We use WIX Filters to help maintain our edge. Advantages in this sport are measured in thousandths of a second, and a lot can be gained by having the best filters on our racecars. Efficiency equals horsepower, and you can never have enough horsepower.”

Since 1967, generations of motorsports champions have driven to victory with WIX Filters, the No. 1 filter in motorsports. Today, the racetrack continues to serve as a grueling test ground. WIX Filters engineers work side-by-side with its teams, applying their research in the ultra-competitive world of auto racing to the everyday demands of light- and heavy-duty consumer and commercial usage.

Whether it’s in the field, over the road or on the track, WIX Filters’ innovative technologies help vehicles run smoothly and efficiently. With a proud tradition of growth and innovation and an unrivaled commitment to quality for nearly eight decades, WIX Filters remains a recognized leader in aftermarket and original equipment filter design.

 

About WIX Filters:

Since 1939, WIX Filters has been an innovator in filtration products. WIX designs, manufactures and distributes products for automotive, diesel, agricultural, industrial and specialty filter markets. Part of the MANN+HUMMEL family of brands, WIX’s product line includes oil, air, cabin interior, fuel, coolant, transmission and hydraulic filters for automobiles, trucks, off-road equipment and manufacturing applications. For more information, visit www.wixfilters.com or any of our social channels: Facebook Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.

 

About Stewart-Haas Racing:

Stewart-Haas Racing is the title-winning NASCAR team co-owned by three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation – the largest CNC machine tool builder in North America. The organization fields four entries in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – the No. 4 Ford Fusion for Kevin Harvick, the No. 10 Ford Fusion for Aric Almirola, the No. 14 Ford Fusion for Clint Bowyer and the No. 41 Ford Fusion for Kurt Busch. The team also competes in the NASCAR XFINITY Series by fielding a full-time entry – the No. 00 Ford Mustang for Cole Custer – and one part-time entry – the No. 98 Ford Mustang. Based in Kannapolis, North Carolina, Stewart-Haas Racing operates out of a 200,000-square-foot facility with approximately 370 employees. For more information, please visit us online at www.StewartHaasRacing.com, on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/StewartHaasRacing, on Twitter @StewartHaasRcng and on Instagram @StewartHaasRacing.

KURT BUSCH – 2018 Daytona 500 Race Advance

Eleven drivers have won the Daytona 500 more than once since the race started in 1959. Only three drivers have ever won consecutive Daytona 500s.

So for Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), the important numbers are now 12 and four. He hopes to become the 12th driver to score multiple Daytona 500 victories and the fourth to score back-to-back wins.

The only drivers to win consecutively are Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95).

But while those drivers had the same crew chief for the consecutive races they won (Petty and Dale Inman; Yarborough and Waddell Wilson; Marlin and Tony Glover), Busch will have a new man atop the pit box.

Tony Gibson, a Daytona Beach native with more than 30 years of crew chief experience, retired from the road at the conclusion of the 2017 season and took a job as production manager at SHR.

In steps another Florida native, Billy Scott, who was crew chief for former SHR driver Danica Patrick for the last two seasons. Scott hails from Land O’ Lakes, Florida and would love nothing better than to score a Daytona 500 victory with Busch.

And as fun as winning was last year, perhaps Busch would like to lead a few more laps this year, for last year, he only led one. But it was the most important one.

With a last-lap pass of Kyle Larson in turns one and two of the 2.5-mile Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway oval, Busch won the “Great American Race” in his 17th attempt. In leading the only lap that mattered, Busch scored his first NASCAR Cup Series win on a restrictor-plate racetrack, giving him victories on every type of circuit the Cup Series visits, which includes short tracks, high-banked ovals, flat tracks and road courses.

Helping Busch will be his participation in the Advance Auto Parts Clash, a 75-lap non-points race this Sunday.

Busch won both the Advance Auto Parts Clash and the first Can-Am Duel qualifying race at Daytona in 2011. Busch led three laps and beat Jamie McMurray to the finish line by .058 of a second to win the Clash in 2011. That same year, he went on to lead seven laps and beat Regan Smith to win the first Can-Am Duel 150 by .065 of a second. Busch narrowly missed a clean sweep of 2011 Speedweeks by finishing fifth in the Daytona 500, which was won by rookie Trevor Bayne.

Busch is a veteran in NASCAR with 612 races started. And he’d love nothing more than to score a huge victory for number 613.

 

KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

What makes it so difficult to score a repeat win in the Daytona 500?

“I think the factors involved, whether it’s the manufacturers changing from year to year, the engine combinations. This year, it’s a whole new ballgame with the no ride-height rule. You will see cars with a whole different style of setup. That is what gets me all motivated to work as hard as I can because, when there is something new, you want to be on the cutting edge to be the first guy to do it.”

Will the speeds be up at Daytona in 2018?

“I haven’t seen the sims or how it will play out as far as overall speed. Any time you think you will go too fast, they slap the smaller restrictor plate on you. There is always that range right around 200 to 205 mph.” 

Has Ford lifted its game overall this year? Do you anticipate things being better?

“I think having a year under our belt will help things. That newness stage is gone and those meetings have productivity and not people stepping on each other’s toes. I like it. I like the way it feels. Mark Rushbrook is now the director of Ford Performance with our group and there is an enthusiasm still there. We just needed to find a little more rear aero last year. This new system, where they will be scanning the cars in tech inspection, should help us close the gap.”

Was there any work in the offseason on the engine or chassis that can help the Ford group?

“There isn’t a big new PR announcement or rollout of a new car, but there is always development. There are always new things. I can’t talk specifics about the engine, but we have improved in the areas that Penske, Roush and us at SHR all demanded. Doug Yates listened to us and applied that. That is exciting news (with) all the 1.5-mile and short-track stuff. We believe we have the elite superspeedway engines right now. The aero side, with the new Hawkeye scanning system in tech, that will be a whole new game that the teams have to learn and play within. We have hired four guys already just to try to help perfect that system for us at Stewart-Haas.”

Has it been good to get to Florida and distance yourself in the offseason in order to be fresh for Daytona?

“It has been good and the weather is great down there. I came back a few days ago and I feel stuffy already. Jimmie Johnson goes to Colorado and does a lot of skiing and high-altitude training. When I am down in Florida, I love the weather and love to support my wife’s polo team. It is great to be down there with her in the offseason because she gives so much to be on the road with our race season. For me, I work out twice as hard down there. I have one of those altitude masks that help raise the altitude level. At sea level, the air is really good down there but, as soon as you get the season started and go to Atlanta, that isn’t too bad. But Vegas and Phoenix are high altitude and dry, dirty air out West. That is why I like Florida and like to train down there.”

How often do you think about the 2017 Daytona 500 and what happened?

“It was an amazing win. The prestige, history and value of that race and just being part of it over the years was special. Now, to go back there as the defending champion of the Daytona 500 gives me that much more motivation to do it again and make sure nobody shares in all the glory. It was a huge day. With Monster’s CEO there and announcing the entitlement sponsorship and, for us, getting back together for me with Ford. I couldn’t have written more of a fairy tale-type of race. Daytona, I think about it all the time. Once we get past that race and it is on to Atlanta and we don’t win, 2017 Daytona 500 winner is done. We have to find other wins.” 

What do you think of the new pit-road rules?

“I like the move. It will create a safer environment with one less guy per team out on pit road. What it does now is put more responsibility on the jack man and tire carrier. Yet it is just the evolution. We used to have seven guys on pit road and we thought taking the catch can man away was going to be big, but it didn’t change the game much. Now, we are down to five guys. Will it change it much, I don’t think so. What I like to do is always change it up (during practice). The car doesn’t stop in the same spot each time. I will come in there nosed-in, nosed-out and juke up a lot of our sequences so they can adapt.”

Have you had conversations with Billy Scott and the No. 41 team about strategies you may incorporate due to the new pit-road rule?

“There is the new pit-road rule and also tires that continue to be limited as far as our quantity every weekend. I think we saw at the spring race at Richmond, guys were gluing up old scuffed tires, which is a no-no, and now you have more of a tire management sequence. I think it puts more variables on pit road by having fewer guys, fewer tires and the stages and when yellows come out and how many heat cycles are on your tires. I think that is what NASCAR wants. More variables to create more opportunities for guys.”

KEVIN HARVICK – 2018 Daytona 500 Race Advance

The start of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season has a look of familiarity for driver Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion team at Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). For the first time in several years, the season will kick off with the same race format, points system, manufacturer, primary partners and series sponsor from the previous season as the team heads to Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for the season-opening Speedweeks.

The biggest changes for Harvick and the No. 4 team this year include an updated Jimmy John’s livery featuring a reversed color scheme with a white hood, black fenders and red highlights; new SHR teammate Aric Almirola driving the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion; one fewer pit crewmember over the wall on pit stops; and a new NASCAR inspection process.

There is comfort in familiarity, which is good news for Harvick and the No. 4 team as Jimmy John’s returns for its third season on the hood of the No. 4 Ford for the 60th annual Daytona 500 on Feb. 18. Jimmy John’s, based in Champaign, Illinois and famous for its freaky fast delivery, made its Daytona 500 debut in 2016, when Harvick and the No. 4 team started ninth and finished fourth to start the season in “The Great American Race.”

While Jimmy John’s is on the hood for the Daytona 500, for the third consecutive year Busch Beer returns to Harvick’s No. 4 Ford Fusion at Daytona for Sunday’s Advanced Auto Parts Clash – the 75-lap, non-points-paying race that kicks off the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Busch’s rich racing history began in 1978, when the brand sponsored the award presented to Cup Series pole winners. Busch went on to be the “Official Beer of NASCAR” from 1988 through 1997 and was the title sponsor of the stepping-stone division to the Cup Series – currently known as the NASCAR Xfinity Series – from 1984 through 2007. The last Busch-sponsored driver prior to the company’s return in 2016 was NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough and his iconic No. 11 car during the 1980 season.

Both Jimmy John’s and Busch have reason to be optimistic as Harvick and the No. 4 team head to Daytona.

As Harvick enters his 18th NASCAR Cup Series season and his fifth at SHR with crew chief Rodney Childers at the helm, he is looking to score his second win in the Daytona 500. He won the famed Harley J. Earl trophy in 2007, when he beat Mark Martin to the Daytona 500 finish line by .020 of a second on the final green-white-checkered restart. It was the closest Daytona 500 finish since the inception of computer scoring in 2003. The race still stands as the second-closest finish in Daytona 500 history.

Harvick also has three wins in the Clash at Daytona – 2009, 2010 and 2013 – tying him for second-most with his team owner Tony Stewart and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett.

In the 2009 Clash at Daytona, Harvick survived an incident-filled race that saw a record eight caution periods and less than half the starting field make it to the checkered flag.

The following year, he joined Neil Bonnett, Ken Schrader and Stewart as the fourth driver in event history to win consecutive races, and he did so driving a backup car he was never able to practice, passing Greg Biffle with two laps remaining in a green-white-checkered finish. NASCAR declared Harvick the winner when a multicar incident ended the race under caution.

In his 2013 win, Harvick led 40 of 75 laps, dominating the second and third segments en route to his third Clash at Daytona victory in five years.

If Harvick can add his name to the Harley J. Earl trophy for a second time Feb. 18 in the season-opening Daytona 500 at “The World Center of Racing,” he would be the 11th driver in NASCAR history to win the iconic event more than once. It would also put the No. 4 team in prime position to secure a berth in the 2018 playoffs as it attempts to win a second NASCAR Cup Series championship in four years.

KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

SHR has two Daytona 500 winners on its roster. You are one of them. How satisfying is it to win that race?

“You always hear people talk about how winning the Daytona 500 is different than winning any other race. Once experiencing that, I would definitely say that it’s true just because everything you do at Speedweeks during the Daytona 500 weekend is just bigger and different than any other race you go to. So, winning our sport’s most prestigious race is pretty cool and something you would definitely like to experience again.”

Does winning one Daytona 500 make you even hungrier for another one?

“After experiencing everything that comes with the Daytona 500, yes. But, you know, you look back in time and see how hard it’s been to win that one particular race because you only get one shot a year. It’s a tough one to win. So I’m very fortunate to have been to victory lane in the Daytona 500, but would love to get back there.”

How helpful is it to come out of Daytona with a strong run?

“Winning the Daytona 500 almost makes your whole year, just for the fact that it is the Daytona 500 and the amount of notoriety and things that come with it for your team and organization are pretty high. I would not want to do it that way, but it is a race that can make your year. However, I think as far as racing for a championship, it’s much different in 2017 and in going forward than it has been in the past, because that hole can also be helped by stage points. Last year, we wrecked out of the Daytona 500 but led and won the first two stages, and I think we left (Daytona) fourth in the points. So, racing hard is definitely the strategy now to gain as many points as you can early in a race to try and protect yourself from the end. You want to carry momentum as early as you can in the season because it never hurts anything going to the next few races.”

A win for you in this year’s Daytona 500 would be a heck of a party with Busch beer bringing 500 fans to the Daytona 500. This is almost unprecedented activation by a NASCAR sponsor and you are at the center of it. What do you think of this?

“The activation and enthusiasm that Busch has brought back to the sport, a sport they’ve been in since the late ’70s and the activation and the marketing plan that they have brought to the No. 4 team and the sport in general, is something that has not been seen in years. For me, being a part of that is pretty cool because I know how much effort they put in and how good they want it to go. And to see them bring 500 fans to the Daytona 500 this year is something that’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s not like they’re just bringing them and giving them a ticket to the race. They’re giving them the VIP treatment, with paying for the flights, food, hotels, race tickets and a meet-and-greet – all the things that come with making the Daytona 500 weekend fun.”

You will have one fewer person servicing your racecar during pit stops this year. Instead of six crewmembers, you will have five. This is the same for everyone, but how do you think it will change the dynamic on pit road?

“I like change. I like things that are different. A few things were accomplished in the pit crew changes. Getting 40 people off pit road is going to help the bottom line with the race teams. I think the pit stops were in the 10-second range, and I think slowing them down a little bit and keeping those cars on pit road and having a little bit longer pit stop isn’t going to hurt anything. The amount of money we were spending on the pit guns, the R&D and things wasn’t exactly fair for all the teams up and down pit road, so the spec gun is a good change. I’m excited about pit road. When I first started Cup racing, the pit stops were 22 seconds long. If I have to sit there for 12 or 13 seconds, I’m probably still going to think it’s really fast.”

If there is a slow pit stop, are you a little bit more understanding knowing how much your guys now have to multitask during a stop?

As you go through the early part of the season, I think you have to have some patience with pit road because you know how new, fresh and different it is through those first few races. I mean, we’ve all practiced this, but nobody’s practiced it with cars going everywhere, and in the heat of the moment. So it’s definitely something you’re going to have to have some patience with. But, as we get toward the end of the year, they should have it figured out, and it’ll probably just be the new norm.”

ARIC ALMIROLA – 2018 Daytona 500 Race Advance

The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series kicks off at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway with the 60th running of the Daytona 500 with Aric Almirola piloting the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). This year marks the 11th season behind the wheel of a stock car in NASCAR’s most elite series for the native of Tampa, Florida.

Almirola reunites with several former co-workers from his past, including John Klausmeier, the leader of the No. 10 team whose 2018 season will be his first as a full-time crew chief calling the shots from atop the pit box. The 37-year-old from Perry Hall, Maryland, spent the last several seasons as an engineer under longtime Cup Series crew chief and current SHR production manager Tony Gibson. Almirola will pilot the black-and-white Ford Fusion with Smithfield branding for Daytona Speedweeks and for a majority of the season.

Smithfield, a brand of Smithfield Foods, which is based approximately five hours northeast of SHR headquarters in Smithfield, Virginia, enters its seventh season with Almirola and 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.

Almirola is the newest driver among SHR’s four-car contingent, joining veterans Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick. The 33-year-old driver is looking forward to getting to know his teammates better and being an integral part of the two-time championship-winning organization.

“Obviously, we see each other every week at the racetrack and there is that peer relationship, acquaintance relationship,” Almirola said. “I am the kind of guy who for the most part is pretty easy to get along with. I don’t create a lot of turmoil or animosity. I’ve never had negative interactions with any of my new teammates. I can’t say that I’m friends with them or have a great relationship with them, but that is coming. I plan that, by a few races into the season, I’ll have a great relationship with those guys. I want to help. I want to be part of the team and contribute to Stewart-Haas Racing and help put banners up inside the shop. I want to be a contributing factor to the race team. I am a firm believer that high tide raises all ships. If I can go and do my part and do my job and contribute, then hopefully we will all run better together.”

Almirola has found himself in victory lane at the 2.5-mile Daytona superspeedway multiple times. His Cup Series win there came in July 2014. He led 14 laps and captured the win in the rain-shortened race. Most recently, he led the most important lap – the final one – in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race in July 2016 at the high-banked superspeedway. Even though he’s accomplished his goal of winning at his home track, Almirola looks to add the famed Harley J. Earl trophy to his collection.

“Everybody loves to go to Daytona, but for me it has a little extra special meaning because I grew up in Tampa, Florida,” he said. “It’s just a couple of hours away across the state on Interstate 4. I grew up as a kid dreaming about racing at Daytona. Not only do I now have that privilege, but I’ve been fortunate enough to go to victory lane. I haven’t done it in February yet, though, and winning the Daytona 500 is the ultimate – you’re forever the Daytona 500 champion.”

While this year’s Daytona Speedweeks mark the first time Almirola and the No. 10 crew will work together in an official race capacity, the Smithfield crew tested Jan. 9 and 10 at Texas Motor Speedway for the first time in a two-day Goodyear tire test.

Rejuvenated for the 2018 season, Almirola spent most of his free time during the offseason visiting the SHR shop on an almost daily basis in preparation for his seventh full-time season piloting a 3,300-pound vehicle around racetracks throughout the United States. In addition to visiting with his new coworkers at SHR, Almirola has been busy with preseason media, including visiting the Miami area in mid-January to promote the Daytona 500. Smithfield also participated in the media tour by donating $6,010 to Feeding South Florida – 60 signifying the 60th running of the Daytona 500, and 10 signifying the number adorning Almirola’s Ford Fusion. Between the two busy Daytona weekends, the Florida native will be returning Tuesday, Feb. 13, to Pierce (Fla.) Middle School in Tampa, where Almirola’s parents met and attended.

 

ARIC ALMIROLA, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

How do you feel going into this season with a new team?

“I’ve been through six full seasons in the Cup Series and they’ve been average, so I’ve got a new opportunity and a new chance in my career to go out and prove what I’m capable of. I’m so excited about this opportunity with Stewart-Haas Racing and having Smithfield as the sponsor, and continuing to drive Ford Fusions. I’m so fired up about my opportunity to go out this year and perform at a high level every week.”

You have a little history working with your new No. 10 team crew chief, John Klausmeier. Can you provide background on that relationship?

“I had the opportunity to work a lot with Johnny at Dale Earnhardt Inc. He kind of headed up the engineering group for all of the tests. We would go and test what seemed to be like every week back when you could test all the time. I’ve had a relationship with him that dates all the way back to 2007. For us to come full circle is neat, and for him to get this opportunity to be a full-time crew chief, he certainly deserves it. He’s a very smart, talented engineer and has a passion for racing. I’m excited for him as much as I’m excited about my opportunity. We get along great, we’re young, we’re like-minded people and we both enjoy similar things and each other’s company.”

You’ve worked with Tony Stewart before. How does it feel to work with a legend and under his leadership?

“Tony has been great to me. From the time I moved to North Carolina in 2004 – he really took me under his wing. I started driving a Late Model for Joe Gibbs Racing and he was someone that I really looked up to, and he befriended me. At 19 years old, he took me under his wing and would let me go test his Cup car with Greg Zipadelli as his crew chief. He really got me started driving the stock cars and gave me the confidence that I could do it. He believed in me and that was big for me. Through the years our friendship has really grown and, finally, we now have the opportunity to work together again. I’ve been wanting to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing for a while now. They’ve won championships and a lot of races in their short existence as a team.” 

How has the transition been for you to Stewart-Haas Racing?

“The transition to Stewart-Haas Racing has been really easy. They have so many talented people that they just make the transition easy. Everybody from the marketing and PR side to the personnel on the shop floor and the guys on the team. It has been great. That transition has been fun. It has been easy, fun, all of the above. I have just been really looking forward to getting to the racetrack to go race. Changing teams is a big undertaking. I would say that the most challenging thing has been learning 380 employees’ names and faces. That is one of the most challenging things. Besides that, just all the little things like getting your seat right, and going and trying to work with a new team and new pedals and new seat and seat insert – all those things to make sure I am comfortable when the season starts inside the racecar.”