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 SmithfieldRacing.com, 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.”