New Year, New Rules
KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (Feb. 20, 2019) – Last year was a learning year for Aric Almirola, his first with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). He met an entire new team, new drivers and newer, faster setups that put him in position to win races and finish fifth in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship standings.
As soon as the 34-year-old Tampa native had it all figured it out – the game was about to change.
In October of last year, NASCAR announced new rules packages for the 2019 season. The packages are tailored to the specific tracks on the Cup Series circuit, with a combination of a smaller tapered spacer to reduce engine horsepower to a target goal of 550 – from 750 – and aero ducts to foster tighter racing on a majority of speedways longer than 1 mile. Both features are in place for 17 of the 36 races, debuting this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval.
Almirola came into 2018 with the expectation to adapt, and he knocked down 17 top-10 finishes, four top-fives, led 181 laps on the year, and earned his first win with SHR Oct. 14 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway to clinch a playoff spot. He advanced to the semifinal round before finishing a career-best fifth in the points. Almirola’s 181 laps led in 2018 were more than his previous six full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series seasons combined. This year, the No. 10 Smithfield Ford driver enters the 2019 season with the same mindset.
“I think adapting to change is what makes the drivers at this level so great,” Almirola said. “You don’t make it to the Cup level without being a great racecar driver. It’s very hard. There are thousands of racecar drivers all across the country who race every weekend and want to be Cup drivers. There are only 40 Cup drivers. They have to be able to adapt to a tight racecar, a loose racecar, a different racecar. But I think, from my standpoint with the racecar, it has a steering wheel, a gas pedal, a brake pedal, and a clutch pedal and a shifter that goes through four gears and has reverse. I have to learn how to drive the racecar on any given weekend to get the most out of the car with whatever problem it has.”
With Atlanta being the first track of the 2019 season to run this new package, it will be far from the first time Almirola and his fellow drivers have experienced tight racing action on a 1.5-mile speedway oval. Almirola raced in the 2018 All-Star Open to clinch a spot in the Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, and a similar rules package was used. The Smithfield driver led 11 laps in the opening stage and raced in and around the top-five for the remainder of that race. While he didn’t win, he got a taste of what is to come this weekend at Atlanta.
Unlike the All-Star Race last year, teams will have the opportunity to take the notes they learned from Atlanta to gain an advantage for Las Vegas the following week. The question is, how long will it take for elite teams to break away and dominate the field like in years past?
“I think that’s the one thing that people misunderstand about our sport,” Almirola said. “It’s NASCAR’s job to govern the sport and try and make sure that everyone plays under the same fair rules. It’s the team’s job to find every area it can possibly work in to win. That’s what everybody does. If you are playing a board game at home, you want to win. You understand the rules of the game, and then you figure out how to play the game to get an advantage to win the game. If you play Monopoly, there is a risk versus reward and you have to understand the rules – you have to figure out how to gain an advantage in the game to win.”
Almirola’s racecar at Atlanta this weekend will feature the traditional black-and-white Smithfield paint scheme. 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 is based approximately five hours northeast of SHR headquarters in Smithfield, Virginia.
Aric Almirola: Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Are you excited to run the Mustang in this first 1.5-mile race of the year?
“Man, it’s so cool to drive the Mustang in the Monster Energy Cup Series now. You think about muscle car when you think about that racecar. You think about horsepower and you think about a badass racecar – when you think about Ford, you think about the Mustang. The Fusion is what you drive to the grocery store and throw your groceries in the trunk. When you think about pulling up to a red light and racing the car that’s sitting next to you from the light, you think about the Mustang. You know, you don’t think about the hybrid Fusion with 275 horsepower that gets 60 miles to the gallon. You think about the Mustang. To have that on the racetrack and racing it in competition at the Cup level, it’s cool and I think it’s going to resonate with the consumer and all the Ford fans.”
Notes of Interest:
Atlanta Motor Speedway Notes of Interest:
● This weekend’s event at Atlanta Motor Speedway marks Aric Almirola’s 282nd Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start. With a previous best Atlanta finish of ninth, Almirola is looking for a win at the 1.54-mile oval.
● The 34-year-old has one top-10 finish at Atlanta.
● In addition to his eight Cup Series starts at Atlanta, Almirola has three NASCAR Xfinity Series starts and four NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series starts.
● Almirola’s Xfinity Series statistics at Atlanta feature one top-10 with 99.5 percent of all possible laps completed.
● The Tampa, Florida native has accomplished two top-five finishes and two top-10s in the Truck Series.
● Atlanta is the first intermediate race of the 2019 season for Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang team.
● Career: Almirola has career totals of two wins, one pole, 15 top-fives, 49 top-10s and 357 laps led in 281 starts.
● Last win: His most recent Cup Series wincame Oct. 14, 2018 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
● Point standings: Almirola is currently 21st in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings with 21 points – 31 points out of first place.
● Last race: At last weekend’s season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Almirola raced in and around the top-five but was collected in a 22-car accident on lap 190. He finished 32nd.
● Crew chief Johnny Klausmeier is in his second full-time season as a Cup Series crew chief. The Perry Hall, Maryland, native transitioned from an engineer to Almirola’s crew chief for the 2018 season. Klausmeier has one win as a substitute crew chief while filling in for Tony Gibson at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in June 2016, and one win as a crew chief for Almirola last fall at Talladega. As a race engineer at SHR, Klausmeier has worked with drivers Ryan Newman, Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch.
● Smithfield rejoined SHR this season and will be the primary partner for the majority of the season on the No. 10 Ford Mustang piloted by Almirola. 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.