Richmond (Va.) Raceway hosts the second race of the opening round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs where Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will compete in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 looking to continue his quest to advance to the next round.
Almirola is optimistic heading to the three-quarter-mile oval as he sits 12th in the playoff standings with six points ahead of the cutoff line for the Round of 12.
“I’m excited to head to Richmond after a decent weekend at Vegas,” Almirola said after last weekend’s opening playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he finished 13th. “We put ourselves in a better position than some, and Richmond is a great place to head to next when we need to get an even better cushion. I’m confident that we’ll bring a fast Smithfield Ford Mustang this weekend. We just have to stay out of trouble and race smart like we did last year.”
At Las Vegas, Almirola qualified fourth to round out SHR’s third-ever 1-2-3-4 qualifying effort. In the first stage of Sunday’s late-afternoon race, he piloted his No. 10 Ford to third to earn eight bonus points. As the temperature changed, so did the handling of his Ford Mustang and he ultimately finished 13th when the checkered flag flew. A handful of other playoff drivers endured bad luck and experienced lower finishing positions, leaving Almirola content to come home with a top-15 finish.
“Every single point matters,” he said. “The difference between going to the second round or getting kicked out could be the result of me passing a car at the line every stage and every race. It happened to us last year at the roval (at Charlotte Motor Speedway). We were out of contention until that last-lap crash, so every second of the race this weekend will be focused on earning one more spot. It doesn’t matter if you’re in 20th or fifth – you still strive for one more pass.”
Almirola finished fifth in last year’s Richmond playoff race after leading the first lap of his career there. He raced in and around the top-five for the entirety of the 400-lap race.
In 15 starts at the Richmond oval, Almirola has captured two top-five finishes and four top-10s. He earned his best finish of fourth in September 2015. He has six Richmond starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with one top-10 finish, 10 laps led and an average finish of 16.2.
As the playoffs continue this weekend, fans can get VIP, behind-the-scenes access in following “Aric ‘Beyond the 10’” by subscribing to his YouTube channel. Episodes showcase never-before-seen footage of Almirola at the racetrack, on family trips, and “A Day in the Life” during the week, as well as all that goes into a NASCAR Cup Series driver’s season. Tune in this weekend for full access to Almirola’s playoff media day, NASCAR Burnout Boulevard and the Vegas race weekend. Click here to subscribe on YouTube and watch the latest episode.
Last week, Almirola and Smithfield announced the “Racin’ for Bacon” 1 million slice giveaway program. If Almirola pilots the No. 10 Ford to victory lane Oct. 13 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, 10 lucky fans will earn 100,000 slices of bacon. To sign up, visit www.racinforbacongiveaway.com.
Sunday’s 400-mile race at Richmond marks the 24th points-paying event during which the Smithfield livery has adorned Almirola’s No. 10 Ford Mustang this year. Smithfield, a brand of Smithfield Foods, based in Smithfield, Virginia, is in its eighth season with Almirola and its 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.
From his 12th position in the playoff standings, Almirola’s 2,033 points are six more than 13th-place Ryan Newman.
ARIC ALMIROLA, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What kind of challenge does a short track like Richmond bring?
“I would say Richmond is one of the most challenging racetracks we go to for managing your tires throughout the run. The first 10, 15 or 20 laps of the run can make you feel like Superman roaring through the field, but you will pay a major penalty for that by lap 40. It makes it fun because, when we show up to Richmond, it really is about managing tire fall-off and making sure your car stays consistent throughout the run as the tires fall off.”
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.”