ARIC ALMIROLA – 2018 Dover II Race Advance

Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) head to Dover (Del.) International Speedway this weekend for the first race in the Round of 12 in this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. The Smithfield team looks for a much calmer weekend after a dramatic but successful end to the Round of 16 Sunday on the “roval” at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.

It was a nail-biting final three laps on the Charlotte roval Sunday with every position turning out to be crucial for the No. 10 team’s ability to advance on to the Round of 12. Almirola’s 19th-place finish put him in a three-way tie with Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson, and his solid finishes in the previous two Round of 16 races Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Richmond (Va.) Raceway were enough to break the tie and vault him into the next playoff round.

“It’s crazy, I think back to Las Vegas and Stage 1 with two laps to go and I passed Ryan Newman for 10th and got one point,” Almirola said. “I think about Richmond with a couple of laps to go, the No. 3 car had run me down and I was doing everything I could to keep him behind me to run fifth, and I was able to stay in front of him. That one point made a difference. Then you think about the race at the roval and all of those cars I had to pass in the race. For most of the race we were good. Johnny (Klausmeier) kept telling me we’re good, we’re plus 18 (points), to save fuel, we’re plus 15. He was, like, just stay on the track, don’t make mistakes, don’t wreck, we’re good. Then we had that pileup on that restart late in the race and I get stopped, and then get hit from behind and pushed into the accident. I was, like, ‘Really? Come on.’ So we had to come down pit road and fix the car, again, and had to restart at the tail of the field. Johnny told me coming to the green that we needed six or seven spots and I was, like, ‘Here we go, we’re either going to make it or we’re not.’”

Fortunately, the Monster Mile at Dover is one of Almirola’s favorite tracks on the Cup Series circuit. In this year’s May race there, the Tampa native scored an 11th-place finish after running in the top-10. In Almirola’s last 10 starts at tracks a mile or less in length, he has one top-five and four top-10s and he’s led three laps. Almirola has earned an average starting position of 14.9 and an average finish of 14.3. Overall at Dover’s concrete mile oval, the Smithfield driver has made 12 starts in the Cup Series and has completed 98.7 percent of all possible laps. Almirola has collected two top-five and three top-three results there.

Almirola opens the Round of 12 11th in the standings with 3,001 points, one ahead of 12th. It’s the furthest Almirola has ever advanced in the playoffs during his seven-year Cup Series career. All four SHR entries have advanced to the Round of 12 this season, making up 33.3 percent of the remaining playoff field.

With the season winding down, 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, or by texting SMOKE to 82257.

Dover marks the 27th 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.

Through the first 29 races this season, Almirola has an average start of 17.4 and an average finish of 13.9 with two top-five finishes and 12 top-10s. He’s also led 116 laps this season, already a career best.


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


Did the No. 10 team meet its expectations during the Round of 16?

“I think the roval was an unknown for everybody and we went into it with a different mindset from a lot of the others. I think a lot of the others kind of had to go there and be aggressive and make up ground. We went in there with a 23-point gap and we felt like if we went there and had a normal, solid day, we could run top-15. If we didn’t hit anything or anybody, stayed on course, we could run top-15 and that would be plenty good to transfer through. That was the mentality we had going into the weekend. Then, calamity was around every corner for us – from practice to the race. Literally, in the race, I’m just cruising along running about 16th and my spotter told me the No. 24 was pitting, and then he blows a right-front tire right in front of me and starts going up the racetrack. I had a choice to make as I get up on him. I was going 80 mile per hour faster than he was and my choice was to either run into the back of him and knock the radiator out, or pound the fence. I chose to pound the fence because I thought we might have a chance to fix it. That was a split-second decision and those little things throughout the entire race made the difference. Like I said, it seemed like calamity was around every corner, but we were able to battle back. That’s what this team believes – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – and we’re a young team working together. We’ve been through a lot of adversity this year, starting with the Daytona 500 and having a shot to win and, on the last lap, it not working out. Other races, we’ve battled different things. As a team, we’ve gone through a lot. I feel like it’s just building us and making us stronger and stronger going into the Round of 12. These are three really good racetracks for us.”

You survived, you advanced, you’re moving on – how do you feel about these next three races coming up? 

“I feel really good about them. I think a lot of people didn’t expect us to be in this round. I feel like we’re still kind of flying under the radar and I enjoy that position. I enjoy it being everyone else that they’re talking about and looking at, and just kind of allowing us to put our heads down and focus on us and what we can do. These are really good tracks for me, personally, and for the organization. Kevin (Harvick) won at Dover, and Dover is one of my favorite racetracks. Talladega is a really good track for me. I won an Xfinity race there and always seem to find a way to run up front. Kansas has been a great track for me, as well. I feel like these next three tracks line up really well for our team and hopefully we can get the Smithfield Ford Fusion in victory lane at one of them.”

We are 29 races into the season. How would you describe the overall team dynamic at Stewart-Haas Racing?

“From all of the teams that I’ve been with, and I’ve been around the garage quite a bit – I’ve been at Joe Gibbs Racing, DEI, JR Motorsports and around the Hendrick people, I’ve been at Richard Petty Motorsports, who had a close affiliation with Roush – I’ve seen the ins and outs of a lot of organizations. This is by far the most cohesive organization I feel like I’ve ever seen. It is incredible to see the commonality inside those four walls, and the people really pulling on the rope together. It’s an incredible environment to be a part of, and I think that’s a large part of why Stewart-Haas Racing has been successful.”

Where does Dover rank on your list of tracks where you like to race?

“Over the years, I’ve really grown fond of Dover. It’s just a really unique racetrack. Dover is a high-banked, 1-mile track and we run about 170 miles per hour there, but you feel like you’re going 300. The G-forces – we pull about 3.5 G’s – at Dover and that’s the most at a track we go to. It’s intense, but it’s a lot of fun.”


JOHN KLAUSMEIER, Crew Chief of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:


What does your car need to have at Dover to perform well there?

“You really have to have the car balanced on the transitions from the straightaways to the corner. You also have to have maneuverability in the car because, as the track rubbers in later in the race, the groove moves around and the car has to be able to adapt. And being able to get over the bumps in turn three is really important, as well.”

CLINT BOWYER – 2018 Dover II Race Advance

After breathing a deep sigh of relief Sunday night knowing he survived the roval carnage at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, No. 14 Haas Automation VF-1/Rush Truck Centers Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver Clint Bowyer is ready to kick off the Round of 12 of this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs this weekend at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.

Bowyer and his No. 14 Ford Fusion team entered Sunday’s final race in the Round of 16 on the Charlotte roval four points out of the final transfer position. But he qualified seventh Friday, then racked up 14 bonus points in the first two stages of Sunday’s race while surviving three- and four-wide racing throughout and avoiding a massive wreck in the closing laps en route to a third-place finish that boosted him to ninth in the points and advanced him to the next playoff round with 11 other drivers.

“There were some sleepless nights last week,” Bowyer said with a laugh. “I was worried about the first few races because they weren’t at tracks where we’ve been strong, but these next races are at places where we’ve run well and I expect we’ll run well again. I can’t wait to get to that old track at Dover and get going this weekend.”

He has a simple goal at Dover Sunday. The Emporia, Kansas native wants to finish just one spot better than he did in May at the concrete mile oval when he led 40 laps but finished second to SHR teammate Kevin Harvick by 7.4 seconds.

“We had a really good car all weekend long back in May,” Bowyer said. “We were very good in terms of sheer speed, but Kevin (Harvick) was a little bit better. I needed a run in clean air to work on my car. In clean air, the cars just drive way better, way different. You can carry momentum and do things that you can’t do mired back there in traffic.”

Bowyer would love nothing more than to start the Round of 12 with a good run Sunday. He said racing on the roval at Charlotte last weekend was tension-filled. He expects this weekend’s race on the more traditional mile oval at Dover to be much more fun.

“This is a fun racetrack,” said Bowyer, who owns three top-five finishes and 14 top-10s while leading 82 laps in 25 Cup Series races at Dover. “This is a challenging racetrack, a very competitive racetrack, one of the most competitive and challenging tracks I think we go to. The balance of your car is just so important, balancing those front tires to the rear. You’ve got to enjoy places like this. If you don’t, it’s a long day.”

Bowyer isn’t a stranger to victory lane at the Monster Mile.

He owns two Xfinity Series victories. He led 70 laps and beat Matt Kenseth by .547 of a second on Sept. 23, 2006 for his third of eight career Xfinity Series victories. His most recent Xfinity victory also came at Dover Sept. 26, 2009, when he led 83 laps and beat Mike Bliss to the checkered flag by 1.319 seconds.

Bowyer is part of something bigger in 2018 than just a career resurgence that has seen the No. 14 team post two victories, eight top-five finishes and 14 top-10s. Bowyer and each of his three fellow SHR drivers advanced to the Round of 12.

SHR is marking its 10th anniversary like no other season. The Kannapolis, North-Carolina-based team is co-owned by Tony Stewart and Gene Haas and has recorded 49 victories and 42 poles since its inception in 2009. Stewart won the 2011 NASCAR Cup Series title and Kevin Harvick gave SHR its second title in 2014. Kurt Busch won last year’s Daytona 500, and Harvick has won seven times in 2018, Bowyer twice and Busch once. Aric Almirola advanced to the Round of 12 in his first year at SHR.

Success isn’t limited to the premier series. In the Xfinity Series, SHR with Biagi-DenBeste Racing’s Chase Briscoe won the inaugural Xfinity race on the Charlotte roval Saturday while teammate Cole Custer arrives in Dover fourth in points. SHR’s Cup Series success is expected to continue at Dover, where it owns three victories – Stewart in June 2013 and Harvick in May 2018 and October 2015 – and has eight top-fives and 18 top-10s in 58 starts.

If Bowyer can finish one spot better at Dover than he did in May, he’ll turn that sigh of relief he breathed in Charlotte into some pretty loud shouts of joy in Dover’s victory lane.


CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation VF-1 Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:


How important is experience at Dover?

“I’m telling you, this is one of the toughest tracks I went to the first time I came, but it’s a demanding racetrack. Here’s the thing about this track – it’s hard enough to get around here by yourself, then you get to racing somebody and now you get frustrated and it’s so easy to get yourself in trouble on that racetrack. That being said, I think younger drivers get themselves in trouble in racing conditions on this demanding racetrack.”

What were the days and night like leading up to racing at the Charlotte roval like?

“It wasn’t much sleep the last couple nights. The little one woke up at 5 a.m. and, once you’re up, you start thinking about this gremlin that’s ahead of you and there wasn’t any more sleeping. I stood there and watched the sun come up thinking about the chicane on the back straightaway, thought about the chicane on the front straightaway, thought about turn eight, how I was going to get off that.”


COLE CUSTER – 2018 NXS Dover II Race Advance

Event:               Bar Harbor 200 (Round 29 of 33)
Date:                Oct. 6, 2018
Location:          Dover (Del.) International Speedway
Layout:             Concrete mile oval


Cole Custer Notes of Interest


    • The Bar Harbor 200 will be Cole Custer’s fourth NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Dover (Del.) International Speedway and ninth overall start at the concrete mile oval.
    • The Bar Harbor 200 will be the third and final race of the first round of the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs. The playoffs began with 12 eligible drivers and are divided into three rounds with the first two rounds consisting of three races apiece, followed by a final, single-race round at the Homestead-Miami Speedway season finale. Four drivers are eliminated after each of the first two rounds to ultimately establish four finalists at Homestead. Drivers automatically qualify for the next round with a win in the current round with the remaining spots determined by the point standings. At Homestead, the top-finishing driver among the four finalists wins the championship.
    • Custer is fourth in the 2018 Xfinity Series playoffs with 2,083 points, 49 behind leader Christopher Bell and 14 ahead of the cutoff to advance to the second round.
    • Custer’s second-place finishes May 26 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and Sept. 1 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway are his best in 28 races this season.
    • Custer’s average starting position of 6.1 and five pole awards in the 2018 Xfinity Series season lead all series regulars. He has earned 20 top-five starts and 25 top-10 starts this season.
    • Custer has earned 11 top-five finishes, 22 top-10s, five poles and has led 240 laps this season.
    • Last weekend at Charlotte in the first-ever road-course-styled playoff race, Custer finished second in the first two stages before earning his fifth consecutive road-course top-10.
    • No Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers are eligible to race in the Bar Harbor 200 Xfinity Series race at Dover. 
    • In Custer’s eight overall starts at Dover, three are in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, two are in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and three are in the Xfinity Series. Custer’s best overall finish at Dover is fourth, earned in the Xfinity Series race June 3, 2017.
    • In the 2015 Truck Series race at Dover, Custer led 67 laps and ran in and around the top-five until lap 138, when a fueling issue pushed him off the lead lap in 13th place, where he would ultimately finish the race.
    • In 66 Xfinity Series starts, 42 Camping World Truck Series starts and 29 K&N Pro Series starts since 2015, Custer has five wins, eight poles, 16 top-five finishes, 32 top-10s and 1,077 laps led at tracks that are a mile in length or shorter.


Cole Custer, Driver Q&A


Your short-track program is improving, as we saw at Richmond and Bristol. Is Dover the one to win?

“We’ve had a lot of improvements at tracks this year and I think Dover will be another one. We have some good ideas of how to make our Haas Automation Mustangs a little faster and a lot more notes to go off of. It’s been great to run up front at a few of these short tracks, too, and it has taught me a lot.”

Describe a qualifying lap at Dover.

“You come in shaking. It’s pretty crazy. You’re getting all that you can out of it and you’re just on edge the whole time. It’s so fast for such a small place.”

How nerve-racking was the Charlotte roval, and are you happy you decided to play it safe and earn the extra points? 

“The roval was the most nerve-racking race of the season because we didn’t know what to expect. I think we did a great job all weekend going for points and getting ourselves in a good position for Dover. We would have had a shot at the win if we pitted early but, with so many unknowns, I’m happy with our decision to get more points. If you think about it, the 18 points we earned with the stage finishes earned us more after finishing seventh than staying out of the pits to finish second.”

Do you feel like you have enough points to bring you into the next round?

“We have a good cushion going into Dover, but you can’t ever be comfortable. This weekend, we just have to execute well and hit our marks. I think we need to try and get as many points as we can in Dover to get the best cushion we can. We still want to go out and win stages and the race, though, so we can build some playoff points.”


Jeff Meendering, Crew Chief Q&A


There’s no arguing that you have unloaded fast Haas Automation Fords every weekend – especially at short tracks. To what do you attribute the success at short tracks this year?

“Short tracks are all unique in size, shape and banking. You have to develop individual setups for each track, where a lot of the intermediate tracks we go to take a fairly similar setup and you can transfer things you learn from one track to the other. It definitely takes longer to build a good short-track notebook, but we’re getting there.”


KURT BUSCH – 2018 Dover II Race Advance

Kurt Busch is singing “Movin’ Right Along” as he heads to Dover (Del.) International Speedway for Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series race.

“Movin’ Right Along,” was recorded in Busch’s birth year of 1978 for the 1979 smash-hit film The Muppet Movie. Frank Oz was the voice of Fozzie Bear while the late Jim Henson was the voice of Kermit the Frog. The two-minute, 57-second song was the second song on the gold album and got as high as No. 32 on the Billboard 200 charts. The album even won a Grammy in 1980 for Best Children’s Album.

But Busch isn’t going to California, Rhode Island or Saskatchewan as they sing about in Movin’ Right Along. Instead he’s headed to Dover, Talladega and Kansas City after advancing to the upcoming Round of 12 of the NASCAR playoffs. He’s seventh in points, and in his first visits to those events in 2018, he posted finishes of fifth at Dover, second at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, and eighth at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. If that happens again, Busch will transfer to the Round of 8.

Perhaps Busch should bring Kermit and Fozzie Bear along with him in his No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) at Dover.

He has one win, eight career top-five finishes and 10 top-10s at Dover. Additionally, the 40-year-old driver has led 426 laps, has an average starting position of 11.5, an average finish of 18.3, and has completed 92.7 percent (13,362 of 14,415) of the laps he’s contested there.

He finished fifth in May 2018 after starting ninth.

Busch scored a huge Dover win in October 2011, when he started second and led 90 of 400 laps. He grabbed the lead from Jimmie Johnson on the final restart and paced the final 42 circuits to win by .908 of a second over Johnson.

If Busch can score a victory at Dover this weekend, he’ll be Movin’ Right Along with an automatic bid to the Round of 8.

And he’ll probably need to bring Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear along – after a stop in Saskatchewan to celebrate, of course.


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


What is it about Dover that makes it such a challenging racetrack, and what do you have to do to be successful there? 

“The tough thing about Dover is things happen so quickly. At any moment, at any time, somebody can spin in front of you or you can lose control off the corners and you are going to wreck. There is no real forgiveness about Dover. That is what makes it tough. To be good there, you have to be good on corner exit. The track really rubbers in so you can see the concrete change to black as the weekend progresses. On corner exit, you get really tight or really loose. The time I won there, I could almost hold it wide open on corner exit. That is what you’ve got to have.”

Do you feel it has earned its nickname? 

“It’s called the Monster Mile for a reason – the track can chew up cars and spit them out. It’s because of those tough transitions into the corners with the high banking and even the high-banked straightaways. It’s tough to do that sharp of a turn on a mile racetrack. It’s like you literally jump down into the corner and then jump back up out of the corner onto the straightaway, and so those points of the track are the toughest part – the transition from straightaway to corner. It’s a fun track to drive.”

How physically demanding of a racetrack is Dover? 

“You’re just on edge there and, the speed that you have to carry on corner exit, you’re right there at the wall every corner exit and you do it 800 times with 400 laps and two corner exits. That makes it tough. This race will wear you out, for sure, and you have to pace yourself.”