It’s back to a more traditional oval circuit for Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) this weekend at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. The intermediate ovals like Kentucky’s dominate the 36-race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
Almirola heads to the Bluegrass State after a 27th-place finish last weekend at the 2.5-mile Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway restrictor-plate track. He was involved in a 24-car accident at the beginning of Stage 2, and from there the No. 10 Smithfield crew worked hard to make repairs to Almirola’s Ford Fusion, allowing him to return to the track. However, a second on-track incident ended the Ford driver’s night prematurely.
For the second consecutive weekend, the Cup Series has a main event under the Saturday-night lights. Saturday-night races are overwhelming fan favorites as they enjoy seeing racecars leave sparks as they navigate the track under the lights, and teams find themselves dealing with considerable handling changes on the Cup Series cars as the race begins in the daylight and ends at night.
Two weeks ago at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway oval in Joliet, Illinois, Almirola led 70 laps and earned 10 stage points and one playoff point before he was relegated to a 25th-place finish. At 1.5-mile tracks this season, the Tampa native hasn’t finished outside the top-13, with the exception of a 32nd-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth due to an accident, and Chicagoland’s finish due to pit-road issues.
In 18 Cup Series starts this year, Almirola has accrued an average start of 19.7, an average finish of 13.3, and he rounds out the SHR four-driver contingent with the 10th spot in the point standings. In five career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Almirola has a best finish of 12th, earned in July 2015.
The SHR driver also has two career Xfinity Series starts at Kentucky with a best finish of sixth earned in June 2007. Additionally, he has three starts in the Camping World Truck Series with two top-five finishes.
This weekend, Almirola is supporting fellow competitor Jimmie Johnson’s foundation by wearing a special helmet visor strip during the 267-lap event. At the race’s conclusion, Almirola will autograph the visor, which will then be available in an online auction to raise funds for the Jimmie Johnson Foundation’s support of K-12 education.
With summer in full swing, fans have the opportunity to celebrate the grilling season by entering Smithfield’s “Hero of the Grill” contest that Almirola and five-time world-champion barbecue pitmaster Tuffy Stone helped launch earlier this year. Fans are encouraged to nominate their favorite grill hero by visiting SmithfieldGetGrilling.com. One “Hero of the Grill” nominee will win $5,000. Plus, the first 10,000 nominees will have the chance to see their name featured on Almirola’s No. 10 Smithfield Ford at Richmond (Va.) Raceway in September.
Fans can also 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.
This weekend’s event at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta marks the 17th 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.
Ford has earned eight wins so far this season with Almirola’s SHR teammates earning seven of the victories for the blue oval – five by Kevin Harvick and two by Clint Bowyer. Harvick also captured the non-points-paying All-Star Race win at Charlotte.
ARIC ALMIROLA, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How much different is a night race versus a day race?
“You know to plan for it. You know your car isn’t going to be perfect. If it’s perfect when you start the race, you better be prepared to make major changes as the sun goes down. The track is going to change so much. It’s important for me to provide constructive feedback on how the car is handling so that the crew can make the right adjustments. So much can change from day to night, it’s important to have patience.”
How are you gelling with your team as the season goes on?
“We’ve got to continue to build a notebook together and that comes with time. We’ll all make mistakes – from me, to Johnny (Klausmeier, crew chief), to the crew, and we’ll learn from those mistakes and those growing pains. The goal is to go through the first three quarters of the season and have speed, and learn from all of our nuances. Then, by the time the playoffs start, we’ll fire on all eight cylinders.”