Last weekend, Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Prime Fresh Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), extended his streak of top-10 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series finishes to five, eclipsing his previous best of four top-10s in a row. And, his five consecutive top-10s have come during the opening six races of 2019, giving the 35-year-old Tampa native his best start to a season to date.
With a pole award, a top-five finish and 69 laps led in the first six races of 2019, and his only finish outside the top-10 coming at the season-opening Daytona 500, where he was caught in a multicar accident on lap 191, it’s safe to say Almirola and the No. 10 Ford team is primed for the second event of the season on a 1.5-mile oval Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Almirola and his team are also hoping their recent success at tracks like the Texas oval – the bread and butter of the Cup Series schedule – have primed them for this weekend. In his last 10 starts at 1.5 mile tracks, Almirola has eight top-10 finishes and has led 106 laps with an average starting position of 9.0 and an average finish of 10.3.
In addition to his Cup Series experience at Texas, Almirola has four NASCAR Xfinity Series starts, all top-20 finishes, and five laps led. He’s also made nine Gander Outdoors Truck Series starts at Texas with two top-10s and 14 laps led.
As he and the team comes off this year’s West Coast swing consisting of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, ISM Raceway near Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, and last weekend’s short-track race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where Almirola qualified second and finished ninth, they are finally able to take what they learned at the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway oval during week two of the season in hopes of competing for the win at Texas.
“Texas is finally the first opportunity that we’ll have to actually implement change into our cars,” Almirola said. “Our West Coast cars were essentially built as we were getting ready for Atlanta. All of our cars for the beginning of the season were built with one mindset from the engineering and the aero department. Now we’ve had an opportunity to run those handful of races and go back and digest all of the information and look at everything. We are able to find out where we were beat and work on that area and to implement that into our Texas cars.”
While Almirola recognizes his career-best success over the opening six races this season, his passion for racing and competition tells him there is much more potential to unlock from the multiple championship-winning SHR organization.
“I’ve led more laps in the beginning of this year than I’ve led in any other year in my career,” Almirola said. “I’m off to the best start of my career, yet we feel like our cars are not where they were last year, and that’s one of the things that has me the most pumped up about this season. The aero department, the engineering department, the people down on the shop floor have all been turning some long hours to correct some things that we feel like we’ve been missing and I think some of that will already be implemented into our Texas cars this weekend.”
Texas is the second event during which the Smithfield Prime Fresh 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 seventh season with Almirola and its first 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. Smithfield Prime Fresh Delicatessen offers customers the freshest, highest-quality deli meats without the wait.
Almirola’s most recent run at Texas last November resulted in an eighth-place finish after starting in fourth. His teammate Kevin Harvick took the win that day after finishing second in the spring Texas race, a good indication SHR’s Ford Mustangs should all be prime contenders for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 victory.
Aric Almirola, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Prime Fresh Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What have you seen so far from the new rules package?
“I think what we’ve seen so far is very typical of what happens in our sport. There are rule changes and, when we have those rule changes, there are a couple of teams that figure it out faster than anybody else and they clearly separate themselves from the rest. I think we have seen that from (Team) Penske and (Joe) Gibbs (Racing). It’s the same cars contending to win the races week in and week out at every track. When you look back to Atlanta, Vegas, Phoenix and then California, those cars were the most dominant cars. There were some other cars that showed some slight moments of speed and competitiveness but, for the vast majority of the race those weekends, those cars were the ones to beat. But all of the other teams have gone to work. They start looking at where their deficiencies are and start figuring it out and the really good teams catch up, and then we start to get more parity and you even saw that last year. Look back at last year and look at the beginning of the year. Through the first six months of the year, nobody would have picked a Penske car to win the championship. All the talk was about Gibbs and the 18 and the 78 and about Stewart-Haas Racing and the 4 car, predominantly. But then you look at the latter half of the year and Brad (Keselowski) goes on to win three races in a row, historic, big races – Darlington, Indy, the first race of the playoffs – and then Joey (Logano) wins at Martinsville and wins the championship. So, tides turn, things change, really good race teams go to work and develop and figure out what they need to go fast, and so I feel like for us at Stewart-Haas Racing, we’re in that stage right now.”
What is the most difficult thing to get right or figure out at Texas Motor Speedway?
“I think the most difficult thing at Texas is that it’s repaved and they changed the banking in turns one and two, and it’s just the speed you carry through the banked corner of turns three and four, and then you have to get slowed down for the flat turns one and two. That has made it very challenging. Then, the exit of turn two is very flat, so you’re carrying some speed there and the car just doesn’t have a lot of grip because there isn’t any banking.”