Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), heads to the first road-course race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season looking to better his career-best finish of eighth place last year at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
The Northern California track proved to be a challenging one for Almirola in his first six cup starts there with a best finish of 14th. But, after cracking the top-10 for the first time there last year, he heads to this weekend’s SaveMart 350k with more confidence than ever. That same weekend last year, Almirola turned laps in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series race, in which he started fifth and finished second.
For the first time since 1997, Sonoma’s full, 12-turn layout, which was unveiled when the facility opened in 1968, will be used for Sunday’s Cup Series race. It includes the raceway’s signature sweeping downhill series of corners known as “The Carousel.” It plunges from turn four, down through turns five and six, and navigates a more than 200-degree-radius turn before dropping onto the longest straightaway through the turn-seven hairpin.
“Sonoma is going to be tricky,” now,” Almirola said. “A lot of drivers get in a rhythm and a routine and you can visualize the track before you even make your first lap of practice. You have an idea where you’re going to run on the track and where your braking points are going to be. Now, going back to Sonoma, it’s going to be drastically different. We’re going to crest the hill at turn 3A and we’re not going to drive all the way down that straightaway into the old turn four and bounce off that curb. We’re going to have to immediately slow down and turn right onto the small straightaway, then into The Carousel, and that drastically changes your mindset for the whole lap and the flow that you’re used to.”
Physical and mental preparation are key to Almirola’s success on and off the track. He spent the entire Tuesday afternoon with his team at the Ford Performance simulator to log laps on Sonoma’s full road-course configuration.
This week, Almirola announced that fans can now get VIP, behind-the-scenes access in following “Aric ‘Beyond the 10’” by subscribing to his YouTube channel and following episodes on Facebook and Instagram TV. Episodes will 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. Click here to subscribe on YouTube and watch the latest episode.
“NASCAR fans get better access to professional athletes and drivers than any other sport,” Almirola said. “I’m excited to take the fans a step further into the hard work, preparation and ups and downs that happen during a race season, as well as real life with my family. We want to show current and non-sports fans how demanding and exciting racing in NASCAR’s top series really is.”
Sonoma marks the 13th weekend the iconic black-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, 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.
The 35-year-old Ford driver has earned one pole award, one top-five, eight top-10s and has led 100 laps through 15 races this season. His qualifying efforts have also been strong with five front-row starts and eight top-five starts this season.
Almirola sits 11th in the driver standings with 426 points, 188 behind leader and fellow Ford driver Joey Logano.
ARIC ALMIROLA, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What will be the most difficult part of learning Sonoma’s new configuration?
“I’ve been going to Sonoma since 2012 with the same exact setup and trying to perfect my technique. It’s going to be challenging. That whole section of The Carousel and that long straightaway that leads up to the old turn seven is now a passing zone. It’s going to be difficult to try and figure out the braking zones and on the restarts to figure out when the best opportunity to pass is.”
What do you need at Sonoma to be successful?
“Patience and grip. Sonoma is really low on grip, and it’s really slow and technical compared to Watkin Glen.”