Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) heads to Richmond (Va.) Raceway this weekend for the first Saturday night race of the season. The Tampa native looks to build upon his season-best finish of sixth during Monday’s weather-delayed race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Under the guidance of first-year crew chief Johnny Klausmeier, Almirola was the top SHR Ford Fusion driver at Bristol – three of whom finished in the top-10. Not only was it a big weekend on the track for Klausmeier, it was just as busy off of the track for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County graduate with the birth of his second child, a daughter named Olivia.
Almirola looks to replicate his solid finish from Bristol at the Richmond oval this weekend. Despite his sixth-place finish at Bristol, he was happy to be disappointed with the result. “I’m a little disappointed with sixth but, at the same time, I’m happy and pleased that we rebounded after a bad day in Texas,” the Smithfield driver said. With the exception of an accident at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth that left him with a 32nd-place result, Almirola hasn’t finished outside the top-14 this season. Even though Almirola had a solid result at Bristol, it didn’t come easily, evidenced by Almirola earning the Mobil 1 Performance Award after completing 81 passes throughout the 500-lap event. It was the second time Almirola has received the award this season. He was also the second-highest-finishing Ford Fusion in the 500-lap race at Bristol.
The Richmond facility, which is undergoing an infield renovation, typically puts on one of the best shows in the sport and is the second consecutive short track of the season. In 12 starts at the .75-mile oval, Almirola has captured one top-five finish and four top-10s. He has an average Richmond finish of 16.2 with 99.9 percent of laps completed, and he earned a ninth-place result in this race last year.
Almirola has six Richmond starts in the Xfinity Series and has scored one top-10 finish along with 10 laps led, and an average finish of 16.2. Richmond is the first track this season where Almirola hasn’t made a Camping World Truck Series start.
Earlier this week, Ford announced it will transition from the Fusion to the Mustang for the 2019 Cup Series season. “When you think about muscle cars and going fast, especially when it comes to the blue oval, you think of the Ford Mustang,” Almirola said. “I think it’s going to be really cool to get the Mustang out on the track in the Cup Series. It already runs in the Xfinity Series and they’ve had a lot of success with it in that series, so I’m excited about getting the Mustang on the track in our series and I can’t wait to take it to victory lane.” Ford leads all manufacturers in the series with four wins so far this season, and has 32 all-time series wins at Richmond.
Richmond marks the eighth weekend that 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. The No. 10 team partner’s headquarters is located approximately 80 miles southeast of Richmond Raceway. 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.
Saturday, Almirola will join Smithfield at Richmond’s infield track takeover area prior to the race. The event begins at 3 p.m. EDT with Almirola helping Smithfield make a protein donation to FeedMore Food Bank of Richmond on behalf of Kroger as part of the company’s 2018 Helping Hungry Homes® hunger-relief tour. The event is open to the media and will conclude at approximately at 3:30 p.m.
ARIC ALMIROLA, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What has been the biggest challenge for you – making the move and jelling with the new team?
“I would say the biggest challenge for me is getting to know what I need out of the racecars. Trying to gauge myself off of Kevin (Harvick), Clint (Bowyer) and Kurt (Busch) and really understanding what I’m looking for in a racecar compared to those guys. The thing I’ve noticed is that all four cars are fast each weekend and we all end up with a little bit different setup and I think that’s the challenging part for Johnny Klausmeier (crew chief), myself and the engineers right now, really identifying what it is I’m looking for in the racecar and building that notebook. We’re showing up to a lot these tracks without a notebook of working together and so we’re kind of guessing on what we need for a setup when we arrive and throughout the weekend, and we tune and tweak on it and usually by Sunday is when we have the car at its best. I’m really proud of Johnny and the engineers for that. That’s a testament to how hard they’re working throughout the weekend to get us where we need to be. Every time we show up at the racetrack, it’s kind of a shot in the dark as far as what we need when we get there. I think that’s the most challenging part right now, just building that notebook and that familiarity of the cars and the setups.”
What’s it like to race at Richmond?
“Richmond is an awesome track to race at. It’s Saturday-night racing at its finest. Beating and banging, and the track has very little grip and the tires wear out, so it’s a really fun racetrack. You can see the sparks flying, and having the glow of the brake rotors and everything lit up is neat. It’s also pretty close to Smithfield, Virginia, so it’s a hometown race for Smithfield. It’s just a lot of fun to go there and race.”
Is it difficult to adjust from the larger tracks you race on to all of a sudden being at a smaller track like Richmond?
“No, I think that’s what makes racecar drivers special, especially the ones who are at the top of what they do like us. We’re able to adapt so fast. Whether we go from a big track like Michigan International Speedway, or to a place like Martinsville Speedway, we all get really good at adapting to whatever racetrack we go to.”