On the last lap of the fall 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Aric Almirola, driver of the then-Smithfield Bacon for Life Ford, held off his teammates Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch to win the most important race of his career. When Almirola crossed the finish line, he secured his spot in the Round of 8 of the NASCAR playoffs and went on to finish fifth in the standings – the best season of his career.
“I just so happened to be the guy who ran third and fourth the whole race and saved a ton of fuel,” Almirola said. “Kevin (Harvick, SHR teammate) was going to line up third and the plan was that we were going to finish one-two-three-four as an organization. Harvick ran out of fuel and the plan was over. I knew I was on my own. Paul Menard gave me a hell of a push and I got to second. When I heard they were wrecking behind me, I thought I would finish second, but I kept it wide open because my spotter told me to keep digging. I ran Kurt down and I didn’t know if I was going to beat him, but I was damn sure going to make it exciting. When I pulled next to him, I heard his car starting to run out of fuel. We finally won after a strand of bad luck.”
There was sheer excitement over the radio when Almirola took the checkered flag. He screamed, “Woohoo! Yes! We finally did it!” But he was hungry for something else when he stepped out of the car.
While Almirola gave his live interview expressing his relief in being able to advance to the next playoff round, he turned to the roaring crowd and said somebody out there watching was going to win bacon for the rest of their lives – and someone did. Joseph Craig from Little Rock, Arkansas, was surprised at his home by Almirola this past offseason with a lifetime supply of bacon, and he mimicked Almirola after his Round of 12 win at Talladega (watch here).
In Almirola’s last five starts at the 2.66-mile Talladega oval, he’s earned one win, three top-five finishes and five top-10s. In his 18 Cup Series starts there, an accident ended his day prematurely just once. In the typically accident-mired event, he’s led a total of 15 laps. Almirola’s first career Cup Series victory was captured in 2014 at Talladega’s sister track, Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
The Tampa native has also found his way to victory lane in his career at the Alabama track in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. In 2017, Almirola led 13 laps before going on to capture the victory there while piloting the No. 98 Ford for Biagi-DenBeste Racing.
Ford had shown strength at superspeedways with 18 wins in the last 32 Daytona and Talladega events combined. In the Cup Series, Ford has captured 10 wins in the last 13 Talladega races.
Talladega is the seventh points-paying event during which the Smithfield livery will adorn Almirola’s No. 10 Ford Mustang this season. 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.
Almirola heads to the 10th race of the 2019 season 11th in the championship with 260 points – 140 out of first. His highest points position this season was fifth before bad luck struck the No. 10 Ford Mustang team at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway three weekends ago and issues with lug nuts at Richmond (Va.) Raceway two weekends ago. Prior to Bristol, Almirola earned six consecutive top-10 finishes.
The No. 10 Smithfield Ford team intends to reset its streak of top finishes this weekend and earn back-to-back wins at a track where Almirola has found the most success of any other on the 36-race points-paying race schedule.
ARIC ALMIROLA, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What did it mean to finally win a race in 2018 after nearly winning multiple races but just coming up short?
“The win at Talladega was clutch. Going through the season and really being consistent from summer to the playoffs was great. We didn’t really have any devastating races throughout those months and never were a threat to really win races. Then, all of the sudden when the playoffs started, our performance really ramped up. We went into the first few races with chances to win, leading laps and running up front. Even right before that, you look at races like New Hampshire, where we led a lot of laps and felt like we had the potential to win. We kind of pointed our way into the playoffs.”
You have found the most success in your career at superspeedways. Why is that?
“I always had to go to these races and be aggressive because, back then, they were our only realistic options to win races. It was the only way I could make it into the playoffs and we were able to do that in 2014. They’ve been good to me. I’ve always gone into those races with that mindset.”
There were talks of tandem racing based on testing earlier this season at Daytona. What are your thoughts on tandem racing?
“What we do in speedway racing is already nerve-racking but, when you’re connected to another car going 200 mph basically blind, it’s intense.”