Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will head just a few miles down the road from the race shop for the second consecutive weekend for Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. Last weekend’s Monster Energy All-Star Race was a non-points event that paid $1 million to the winner, but it’s back to racing for points with this weekend’s 600-mile marathon.
Once again joining the Memorial Day weekend tradition of honoring America’s fallen service members as part of the NASCAR Salutes initiative, the windshield header of each Cup Series car that usually display the drivers name will instead feature the name of a fallen service member. Almirola’s name on the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion will be replaced with United States Army SSG Aaron Butler. Butler, a native of Monticello, Utah, born on Aug. 24, 1989, was part of the First Battalion 19th Special Forces unit. He graduated from the Army Green Berets Special Forces Qualification course in January 2016 and perished on Aug. 16, 2017. In addition to defending his country, Butler served as a missionary for the Church of Latter Day Saints, earned his Eagle Scout rank and was a four-time Utah high school state wrestling champion. Butler’s brother, fiancé and other close family members will be attendance this weekend at Charlotte.
Butler was selected to be on Almirola’s car because of his connection to the No. 10 team car chief, Chad Haney. “My connection to Aaron Butler was through a good friend of mine, Charlie Tilton,” Haney said. “Charlie was an instructor at an Army Green Beret training course in North Carolina called Robin Sage. I went on a training exercise one night and they dressed me up as a bad guy, and Aaron and a bunch of other guys found me. I was told last summer that Aaron was the one who got me in the exercise. It was an experience that I will never forget. When I heard about his death I went to work trying to figure out a way to honor him. I’ve since spoken with Aaron’s mother and brother on the phone and they are very appreciative of his name being on our car.”
This weekend also marks the first time Smithfield has adorned Almirola’s Ford Fusion for the May race at Charlotte even though the Tampa native has participated in the 600-mile race five times in his career. In his first Cup Series start at the Memorial Day weekend event in 2012, Almirola earned his only Cup Series pole award with a speed of 192.94 mph. In the same event, Almirola also led four laps. The 34-year-old has a best result of 10th at the 1.5-mile oval located just a few minutes from SHR’s Kannapolis, North Carolina headquarters.
At 1.5-mile venues this season, Almirola hasn’t finished outside the top-13 with the exception of the April race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, where the No. 10 Ford Fusion was involved in an accident. Almirola finished inside the top-10 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
Last weekend at Charlotte, Almirola’s No. 10 Ford Fusion had a different look for the Saturday night exhibition event. 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.
In addition to the Waffle House sweepstakes, fans can 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.
Fans also continue to have the opportunity to celebrate the summer 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 month. 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.
The Coca-Cola 600 marks the 12th 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’s seven wins this season is the best start the manufacturer has had to a season in 20 years. Almirola’s SHR teammates have earned a majority of the victories for the blue oval – Kevin Harvick with five and Clint Bowyer with one. If a Ford Fusion visits victory lane this weekend, it will mark the manufacturer’s first win in the Coke 600 since Mark Martin in 2002.
ARIC ALMIROLA, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
With the Coke 600, you’ll have a fallen service member’s name on your windshield. What does that mean to you?
“It’s huge for me. I greatly appreciate and understand the sacrifices that the men and women of the military make. My dad was in the Air Force and I grew up on an Air Force base in the panhandle of Florida. It means a lot to me personally to represent the men and women who go out and fight for our freedom. It’s easy to take for granted that we wake up in the morning and go walk out of the doors of our houses and go about our day, but there are men and women all over the world fighting for us to make it a possibility. I’m grateful for that and for the people who have made the ultimate sacrifice and have given their life to make sure we have freedom. It’s a great way for us to pay tribute to them and their families by having their names on the racecar.”
Based on your results so far this season, you and your team have been very consistent. How does it feel to have consistency this year?
“I feel like we have been consistent. We’ve been a top-15, top-10 car every weekend. We had one setback at Texas, running in the top-10 before we were involved in a crash. Besides that, I’d say we’ve been a solid contender. That’s fun, that’s not been the norm for me in my Cup Series career. So, obviously, making the jump to Stewart-Haas Racing and having incredible racecars has made it a lot of fun for me and, to have great partners who put in all of the time, energy and resources that they do and doing their part to make us go faster on the racetrack, is a lot of fun to be a part of.”