This weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to the backyard of Ford – Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) return to the 2-mile oval for the second time this season after spending last weekend turning left and right on the road course at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
Before hitting the track this weekend, Almirola and his fellow Ford drivers on Thursday will reveal the 2019 Ford Mustang they’ll wheel beginning in the 2019 Cup Series season. The Ford Cup Series teams will transition to the Mustang next season after running the Fusion since 2006.
In June, Almirola scored his best Michigan finish of 11th, and it may have been even better had he not slid through his pit box during the race, causing him to lose several spots. It was the same day SHR scored its first 1-2-3 finish as an organization, and the first in the Cup Series since Roush Fenway Racing accomplished the feat in September 2008 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. In Almirola’s 12 career starts at Michigan, he’s completed 99.6 percent of all laps possible and has an average start 20.3 with an average finish of 19.4.
Almirola has two starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Michigan. He won in June 2010 after leading seven laps for his second Truck Series win that season. Additionally, the Tampa native made three starts in the Xfinity Series at Michigan with a best finish of eighth in June 2015 while piloting the No. 98 DenBeste Water Solutions Ford.
In this year’s 22 Cup Series races, Almirola has an average start of 19.1 and an average finish of 13.5 with one top-five and nine top-10s. He’s also led 113 laps this season, already a career best. Almirola rounds out the four-driver SHR contingent at 12th in the point standings.
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.
Michigan marks the 20th 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 nine wins so far this season with Almirola’s SHR teammates earning eight of the victories for the Blue Oval – six by Kevin Harvick and two by Clint Bowyer. Harvick also captured the non-points-paying All-Star Race win at Charlotte. Bowyer led the 1-2-3 finish at Michigan in the June race to record Ford’s 36th and most recent win at the track. Bowyer can become the first Ford driver to sweep the Michigan Cup Series races for Ford since Bill Elliott did it in 1986.
ARIC ALMIROLA, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Michigan has become one of the fastest tracks on the circuit. Corner entrance speed is 210 mph into turn one. Do you really feel that speed going into turn one?
“Absolutely. You feel every single mile an hour of that 210, 215 miles per hour. It is so fast at Michigan. Getting into the corner at that speed is just incredible. It’s fun to do that by yourself, but racing around other racecars at that speed is treacherous. That’s why you see give and take, and you see a lot of cars racing aggressively on restarts when we’re going a little bit slower and it’s a little easier to pass. But then, once we get strung out, it’s challenging to pass somebody going 215 miles per hour when you’re that dependent on aero, going that fast.”
At the speed you’re running at Michigan, how hard is it to get on pit road and get slowed down to pit-road speed?
“I don’t think Michigan is that difficult of a pit road to get onto. We go to many other racetracks that are harder to get on pit road with Dover probably being the toughest track to get on pit road. Michigan is in my opinion pretty straightforward. We are going pretty fast, around 200 miles per hour, and we have to get slowed down to 55 miles per hour, but it’s a pretty wide, sweeping corner and the access lane getting on pit road is pretty easy.”
How crazy are the restarts at Michigan and is it the best time to take advantage of someone?
“We’re seeing restarts get crazier and crazier at tracks that we go to. There’s no one track that they’re crazier at than the other anymore because that is the most opportune time to pass cars, besides on pit road. Pit road is the easiest place to pass but, once you line up for the restart, there’s opportunity to gain three, four, five spots in a lap, and there’s no other opportunity to do something like that throughout the run. I feel like restarts are definitely the time to gain or lose track position, so you have to be on offense and defense at the same time. Michigan is very wide and you want to be aggressive and go take spots away, but you can easily give up four or five spots that are really hard to get back once we get single file.”
Some tracks are very line-sensitive on restarts. Is Michigan one of them?
“Yes, Michigan is a very line-sensitive on restarts. The outside lane is usually the dominant lane. The inside lane – the cars on the inside usually lose sideforce, they lose the air on the side of their car and they are very loose down there in turns one and two on the restart. The outside lane usually has the momentum and preferred lane going through one and two on the restarts.”