Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) enter the season’s first race on a mile oval Sunday at ISM Raceway near Phoenix fresh off of their second consecutive top-10 finish – a seventh-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Consistency is everything in NASCAR’s top-tier series and consistency is what earned Almirola a spot in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
Just three races into this season, Almirola is already ahead of last year’s pace, sitting 10th in the driver standings just 41 points behind leader Joey Logano. This ties his best point standing after three races since 2013, when he finished 13th, 15th and 16th in the first three events.
The 34-year-old Tampa native has not only been consistent this season but, statistically speaking at Phoenix, it would be safe to forecast another strong run for the No. 10 Ford team this weekend. In Almirola’s last three Cup Series starts at the desert oval, he has earned three consecutive top-10 finishes and one top-five – the latter earned in his previous start there last November, when he finished fourth.
“We still have a lot to learn as a team with this new rules package, but we certainly managed to build a fourth- to eighth-place car at Atlanta and Vegas,” Almirola said. “We still need a bit more to compete for wins every weekend and I’m thankful for the guys and girls at Stewart-Haas who have worked so hard during the offseason to make sure we start strong, and we have.”
Almirola has certainly excelled in his seven NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Phoenix, having captured the pole in November 2011 to go with 74 laps led and a pair of top-10 finishes. Earlier in his career, Almirola made three starts in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series at the “Diamond in the Desert.” Two of those three starts resulted in top-five finishes, and he led a total of 52 laps.
This marks the first time in Almirola’s eight full-time seasons in the Cup Series that he will race for his third consecutive top-10 at the fourth race of the season. His SHR teammate Kevin Harvick has also started the season consistently with back-to-back top-five finishes and matches Almirola’s one pole award, which Harvick earned last weekend at Las Vegas.
Phoenix marks the fourth consecutive weekend the black, gold and white Smithfield livery will adorn Almirola’s No. 10 Ford Mustang. Smithfield, a brand of Smithfield Foods, which is based approximately five hours northeast of SHR headquarters in Smithfield, Virginia, enters its eighth season with Almirola and second 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.
Of Almirola’s 51 top-10s earned in 283 career Cup Series starts, 17 have been earned at tracks a mile in length or shorter. He has an average finish of 15.5 at Phoenix and is ranked 10th among all drivers in the last 10 races run at tracks a mile or shorter.
“Phoenix is just a fast short track,” Almirola said. “Ever since the repave, it races like a mile-and-a-half, which is different from a Richmond-, Martinsville- or Bristol-type of short track. It’s a fun race and I always look forward to heading out West to Phoenix.”
The Smithfield Ford driver looks to build on his short-track success this weekend by earning his third-top 10, first top-five or, the ultimate prize, a win in the desert.
Aric Almirola, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
This is the first short-track race since the new rules package. What can we expect?
“I think for Phoenix it’s going to be very similar to the short-track racing we’ve seen in the past. Short-track racing is really what NASCAR was built on. We’ve migrated to these mile-and-a-half racetracks and, over time, they’ve put on great races. But short-track racing is the heart and soul of NASCAR and I don’t think our new rule package is going to change that. We’re still going to see beating and banging and tempers flaring. This is your very typical short-track race. I think there’s going to be tight, side-by-side racing and the bump-and-run is going to come into play where we’re moving ourselves into position. It’s going to be the same, old, exciting short-track racing that we’ve always seen.”
What’s the most important thing to be successful at Phoenix?
“You have to have everything at Phoenix. You have to have downforce, grip in your car and good brakes. You have to make sure your car turns well across the center of turns one and two, which is a sharp, banked corner. And then you have turns three and four, which are really fast and sweeping and flat. You’ve got to have a car that’s versatile and is a good compromise for both corners.”