The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series head to Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International this weekend. In addition to his usual role behind the wheel of the No. 10 Go Bowling Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in Sunday’s Cup Series race, Almirola will also compete this weekend in the No. 98 Go Bowling Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. It’s all in an effort to continue to hone his road-course-racing skills.
Watkins Glen is the second road course on the Cup Series schedule this season and it marks the first for the Xfinity Series. The 2.45-mile, seven-turn circuit is located in the Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York and is quite different from Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, the first road course stop each June. “Watkins Glen is a really fast racetrack,” Almirola said. “I would compare Sonoma to a Martinsville. It’s slow, technical, and wears the tires out really bad – bumping and banging, very physical. Watkins Glen to me is like racing at Dover. It’s still very technical, but incredibly fast. You’ve got to have a car that’s really stuck to the racetrack, has good downforce and is able to run up through the esses.”
While the road courses have been a challenge for Almirola over the years, he posted his best career Cup Series road-course finish of eighth at Sonoma this year in his No. 10 Ford Fusion.
Heading into this weekend, Almirola has made just one previous Xfinity Series start at Watkins Glen, in August 2011, when he started 17th and finished eighth.
The 34-year-old will make his eighth Cup Series start at The Glen this weekend, looking to improve on his best Watkins Glen finish of 16th. He’s completed 597 of the 630 possible laps at the facility, and hopes the extra seat time he’s getting in the No. 98 Xfinity Series entry will allow him improve his Cup Series performance this weekend.
This weekend at The Glen, professional bowler Jason Belmonte of Orange, Australia will be attendance. He’s also known for his bowling trick shots that can be seen here from Dude Perfect. Belmonte will be showcasing his skills on the two fully operational lanes Go Bowling has set up at The Glen for the fans during the weekend. Almirola will also display his bowling skills at the bowling lanes on Friday and Saturday.
Almirola and the No. 10 Go Bowling Ford Fusion also will give the fans a chance to get a little extra money for their bank account this weekend. If he wins at Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen, one lucky fan will win $10,000. If Almirola doesn’t win Sunday, one fan still has the chance to win $1,000. To enter the contest, visit GoBowling.com/10k.
Meanwhile, safe to say Almirola is having a career year in the Cup Series, and his confidence continues to grow as his on-track performance has improved. “It has given me a tremendous amount of confidence and belief in myself,” he said. “I have talked a lot this year, and especially the last couple of weeks, just about the last six years. I have always been unsure if it was the equipment, my team, or me. Do I just not stack up? Am I holding the team back? I think it’s natural as a human being to question everything, and particularly yourself. Having this opportunity to drive the best equipment in the garage at Stewart-Haas Racing and me being able to rise to the challenge, and go out there and run up front and lead laps and be competitive, it gives me a lot of confidence in myself and in my ability. It’s good to know that, given the right circumstances and the right opportunity, I can go and compete with the best.”
In 21 Cup Series starts this year, Almirola has accrued an average start of 19.7 and an average finish of 13.1, with one top-five finish and eight top-10s. He’s also led 113 laps this season, already a career best. Almirola rounds out the four-driver SHR contingent at 11th in the point standings.
ARIC ALMIROLA, Driver of the Go Bowling Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Can you talk about what it’s like making a lap at Watkins Glen and what it takes to get around the track?
“I would say maybe 80 percent of the passes are made getting into the Bus Stop. So you’ve got to be able to set that pass up coming through the esses, and that is one of the fastest, trickiest spots on the racetrack. It’s very challenging to get up through there and carry a lot of speed. Your car gets kind of light and out of control, and you’re running 150 or 160 miles an hour through there, and then reaching a top speed of 180 or 185 miles per hour before a very, very heavy braking zone going through the Bus Stop. It’s a fun racetrack, its fast. For a road course, I would say it’s probably one of the fastest road courses in the country. It’s definitely the fastest road course that we race on in NASCAR.”
What is the highest score you’ve bowled?
“The highest game that I’ve bowled was just over 200. I think I bowled something like a 204 or 205. I’m consistent in the 150 to 170 range but, on occasion, I’ve bowled above 200 – maybe a handful of times.”
How do you feel going into the road-course race? With one coming in the playoffs, is it more important to you?
“Road-course racing has been arguably my Achilles heel throughout my career, and I don’t claim to be very good at road-course racing at all. I have always worked really hard at it to try and be better. As a racecar driver, you want to be versatile. You want to be able to contend for wins on superspeedways and intermediate tracks and short tracks – challenging tracks and road-course tracks. You don’t want to be weak in any one area. For me, it has been a big challenge to conquer road-course racing. I have put a lot of effort into this year to be a better road-course racer and had a lot of help with it. With Ford, they have helped me a lot with a lot of time in the simulator with our race team at Stewart-Haas Racing, and they’ve provided a lot of data to look at and a lot of things to study. On top of that, running the K&N race out in Sonoma before the Cup race, I feel like that helped me a lot to get ready for Sunday. I got my first-ever top-10 on a road course out at Sonoma and had a really good run and was really fast. Same thing going into Watkins Glen. I have worked really hard studying data and getting ready in the Ford simulator. We are fortunate enough to have Go Bowling on the car for the weekend because it is the Go Bowling weekend at the Glen. We are going to have a Go Bowling car on the racetrack on Saturday in the Xfinity race. I feel that will help me get in a rhythm for Sunday and hopefully that will pay off for Sunday at Watkins Glen. Road-course racing is definitely not something that I am overly comfortable with, or something I claim to be good at by any means, but through hard work I am trying to get a lot better at it and I feel like I have.”