Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) head to Pocono (Pa.) Raceway for the first of two races at the 2.5-mile track. After a long and grueling 600-mile race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway last weekend, Almirola soldiers on to the trickiest track on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit – the three-turn layout located in the Pocono Mountains.
The Tampa native will make his 12th career Cup Series start at the “Tricky Triangle.” With his career reinvigorated in this, his first season driving for SHR, Almirola hopes to improve on his previous finishes at the track. He has a best Cup Series finish of 18th at the track, with his last two starts both resulting in accidents. However, so far this season, Almirola hasn’t finished lower than 17th just once. the exception being a 32nd-place result at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth after an accident in the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion. This season, Almirola has accumulated an average finishing position of 12.5 and an average starting position of 19.8 behind the wheel of the No. 10 machine.
In addition to his Cup Series starts, Almirola has one Xfinity Series start at Pocono in June 2016, when he piloted the No. 98 DenBeste Water Solutions Ford to an 11th-place result. He also has one Camping World Truck Series start at Pocono, starting fifth and finishing fourth in July 2010.
While Almirola is still looking for his first win at Pocono, crew chief Johnny Klausmeier already has one win in at Pocono on his Cup Series resume in June 2016. “Johnny has a good track record at Pocono,” said Almirola. “He was the interim crew chief for a weekend there with Kurt (Busch) and got his first win as a Cup crew chief, so we have that going for us.”
Two weekends ago at Charlotte, Almirola’s No. 10 Ford Fusion had a different look for the 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.
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 Pocono 400 marks the 13th 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 seven wins so far this season with Almirola’s SHR teammates earning a majority of the victories for the blue oval – Kevin Harvick with five and Clint Bowyer with one. Harvick also captured the All-Star Race win at Charlotte. The manufacturer has 23 all-time series wins at Pocono, and Ford has swept both Pocono races five times.
ARIC ALMIROLA, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Can you talk about the transition for you from the last couple of years to this year at Stewart-Haas Racing?
“I think when you look at it, just as a whole, Stewart-Haas Racing as an organization is doing incredible this year. You look at (Kevin) Harvick with all the wins and (Clint) Bowyer and Kurt (Busch) and I consistently running in the top-10, Kurt in the top-five more often than I am. For me, kind of going from where I came from to now, I showed up to the racetrack every week for the last few years and always went into it with a positive outlook but, deep down inside, never knew what to expect. I didn’t know if we would show up that week and have a 25th-place car or a 10th-place car. This year, every single time we go to the racetrack, when we get on the airplane to leave on a Thursday, I feel like we have a shot and all the tools and resources to go and win. It is up to my crew chief and engineers and me and the guys on my team. We see it internally at our shop. The ability to win is there every single week. No matter what kind of racetrack it is – a superspeedway, intermediate, short track or a concrete track. We are competitive every single week. That is what you live for. That is why you do what you do, to go out and be competitive. If I played baseball growing up and lost every single game that I played, I probably wouldn’t have played baseball much because it isn’t fun. Same for racing. The reason I loved racing so much was that, when I was a kid, more often than not I got a trophy and that makes it fun. I continued to pursue that passion. Then you make it to the top and it is really hard because the competition level is so high that, more often than not, you lose, even in a good year. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, you look at all the years those guys won championships, and Martin Truex Jr. last year, he won a lot of races but he lost way more than he won. You have to identify what success looks like for you. The last two years just got stagnant and tailed off and the fun meter got pegged. It was not as exciting and not as fun. So this has honestly just been a rejuvenation for me and my career, to be able to show up to the racetrack every week and feel like I am going to be competitive, and have that confidence to know we are going to run top-10 as long as we don’t screw up. If we do everything right, we will have a shot to win.”
Jeff Gordon has been voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next year. Do you have a favorite Jeff Gordon memory?
“I remember vividly watching Richard Petty’s last race and Jeff Gordon’s first race on TV. I was 8 years old then. I think back to that race, it was so memorable because Richard went out in a ball of fire and to see all of the fans going crazy to honor Richard, and then all of the buzz of this new kid Jeff Gordon making a splash in the Cup Series at the same time. I think when you look back at it now, I think it’s almost symbolic, like the passing of the torch, if you will.”