Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) venture to California for this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. The series was on hiatus last weekend but, heading into the off weekend, Almirola scored an 11th-place finish at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
Sonoma marks the first of two road-course events this season. Nestled in Northern California’s Wine Country, its 1.99-mile, 12-turn circuit has proved to be trying for Almirola. Given the challenge the road course poses to the Tampa native, he’s looking to gain more practice by participating in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race Saturday afternoon with an entry fielded by SHR. It’s not uncommon for NASCAR Cup Series drivers to participate in the Saturday event. In fact, Almirola’s SHR teammate Kevin Harvick captured the victory in the 2017 K&N race there.
The Smithfield driver has six Cup Series starts at Sonoma with a best finish of 14th in June 2015 and a 99.7 lap completion percentage in his six starts. SHR drivers have won the last two Sonoma races – Tony Stewart in 2016 and Harvick in 2017. Almirola looks to greatly improve his performance at Sonoma, in particular, just as he’s done throughout this season. After 15 starts this year, he’s accrued an average start of 19.9, an average finish of 12.0, and he rounds out the SHR four-car contingent with an 11th spot in the point standings.
While Almirola’s main purpose this weekend in Sonoma is to pilot the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion, he and his wife Janice headed out to the area earlier this week to enjoy a few days away from the racetrack. “I love going to Sonoma with my wife and enjoying Wine Country,” he said. “We have great friends who live in the Santa Rosa and Windsor areas and we get to visit with them. I just really like going out there a couple of days early to enjoy the great food and wine. We definitely make more out of it besides a work trip.”
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 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.
Almirola’s No. 10 Ford Fusion had a different look for last month’s non-points-paying NASCAR All-Star Race. Waffle House appeared on the car to help kick off its first-ever “Who’s Your All-Star?” sweepstakes in conjunction with Smithfield Foods. Fans can enter the sweepstakes by snapping a photo with their favorite Waffle House associate and sharing via Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #WhosYourAllStar. The top-10 associates and the customers who nominated them will receive special recognition and a Waffle House gift card. One grand-prize customer and associate winner will each receive a VIP experience to the NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
This weekend’s Save Mart 350k at Sonoma marks the 14th 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 a majority of the victories for the blue oval – Harvick with five and Clint Bowyer with two. Harvick also captured the All-Star Race win at Charlotte.
ARIC ALMIROLA, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What do you need at Sonoma to be successful?
“Patience and grip. Sonoma is really low on grip, and it’s really slow and technical compared to Watkin Glen.”
Road Courses are unique tracks in the Cup Series, what do you focus on this weekend?
“My focus in the past with the road courses has been, ‘Let’s go here and let’s not get a DNF, let’s not run off course and let’s be smart. Let’s get out of there with a top-15 or top-20 finish,’ and, a lot of times, we were actually able to do that. I feel like this year is a lot different for me. I don’t want anything to be a weak link and road courses are for me as a driver but, for SHR, its their strong suit with (Kevin) Harvick winning Sonoma last year, and Tony (Stewart) winning the year before at Sonoma. And Clint (Bowyer) and Kurt (Busch) are both past winners at Sonoma. Part of the reason why I’m running the K&N race is to help me improve as a driver on the road course. I’m going to have every opportunity to be more successful road-course racing this year than I’ve ever have before.”