Darlington Advance
No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing

Event Overview
Event: Goodyear 400 (Round 13 of 36)
Time/Date: 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 14
Location: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway
Layout: 1.366-mile oval
Laps/Miles: 293 laps/400.2 miles
Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 90 laps / Stage 2: 95 laps / Final Stage: 108 laps
TV/Radio: FS1 / MRN / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Notes of Interest

● Every year since 2015, Darlington (S.C) Raceway has hosted the Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR, during which teams and drivers pay homage to the legacy and heritage of the sport using unique paint schemes on the racecars and other notable accents in the garage and pit lane. For this weekend’s renewal of the annual tradition at Darlington, Stewart-Haas Racing asked driver Aric Almirola to choose his own throwback paint scheme. It took just seconds for Almirola to say the most memorable and unique paint scheme he remembers is Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 2001 “baseball car,” which Earnhardt drove to victory at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway on July 7 of that year – just five months removed from his father and NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s fatal accident at the conclusion of the season-opening Daytona 500.

● Almirola remembers where he was when he watched “Junior” cross the finish line first and fellow Dale Earnhardt Incorporated (DEI) driver Michael Waltrip just behind in second. Almirola calls Earnhardt’s victory utilizing the baseball car paint scheme one of the sport’s top moments. “I grew up going to every Daytona race, but I wasn’t actually there at the track this time. We took a summer trip to Disney World instead that summer and we were in a cabin watching the race live on TV. I’m a huge baseball fan and I played baseball all the way up through high school, so growing up a baseball fan and being a NASCAR fan, and with Dale Sr., passing away earlier that year after the Daytona 500, to then watch Dale Jr., coming back in this baseball paint scheme and winning is just extremely emotional,” Almirola said. “I remember jumping up and down on the couch of the cabin that we were staying in, just so excited that he had pulled off that win and it was just really emotional. And I remember running around the cabin like a wild man and jumping up and down and just super pumped, and so was the entire NASCAR world, so when they asked me what one of my favorite paint schemes as a kid was growing up, this is the first that came to mind.”

● Just like racing, Almirola’s love for baseball started young with the majority of his family playing baseball and softball. Fast forward to today and the 39-year-old Almirola is passing down the stick-and-ball sport to his 10-year-old son Alex, who is playing his third season of baseball. Most weeknights during baseball season, Almirola can be found on a field as an assistant coach. On Tuesday of last week (May 2), Almirola got to share the field with Alex and his racecar at the minor league Kannapolis (N.C.) Cannon Ballers’ stadium to unveil the No. 10 SHR Ford throwback scheme and to throw the ceremonial first pitch for that night’s game. In true Almirola fashion, father and son both threw strikes from the pitcher’s mound.

● History at Darlington: In 15 NASCAR Cup Series starts at Darlington, Almirola has two top-10 finishes – both coming in 2020. Almirola earned back-to-back 11th-place finishes at Darlington last year.

● Fast Fact: Almirola and Earnhardt Jr., are tied for an impressive record set at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. With his third-place finish in the June 2020 race at Talladega, Almirola tied Earnhardt’s record of eight consecutive Talladega top-10s, first set by Earnhardt from April 2001 to October 2004. Almirola’s Talladega top-10 streak began in October 2016.

● Driver Points: Almirola arrives at Darlington 25th in the driver standings, 199 points out of first.

● Almirola’s career: In 436 career NASCAR Cup Series starts, Almirola has three wins, 28 top-five finishes, 92 top-10s, four poles, and has led 1,018 laps.

● Smithfield has been a sponsor of Almirola’s for the entirety of his fulltime NASCAR Cup Series career – making it one of the longest-lasting partnerships in NASCAR. Smithfield is an American food company with agricultural roots and a global reach. Its 63,000 team members are dedicated to producing “Good food. Responsibly.®” Smithfield is one of the world’s leading vertically integrated protein companies. The company has pioneered sustainability standards for more than two decades, including its industry-leading commitments to become carbon negative in U.S. company-owned operations and reduce GHG emissions 30 percent across its entire U.S. value chain by 2030. Smithfield believes in the power of protein to end food insecurity and has donated hundreds of millions of food servings to local communities.

● Beyond the 10 YouTube Series: In 2023, Almirola is continuing to share his life beyond the No. 10 Ford with season five of his award-winning YouTube series. Fans and media can subscribe on YouTube to see Almirola’s personality on and off the track. Episodes have already featured life as a dad, a husband and an athlete, and the show gives fans a unique perspective on what goes on in the life of a professional NASCAR driver. Fans can also follow Almirola’s social media channels: @Aric_Almirola on Twitter and Instagram, and @AricAlmirola on Facebook.

Aric Almirola, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:

What is your relationship like with Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
“I have a great relationship with Dale Jr. He believed in me at a time when I needed somebody to believe in me to give me the opportunity to go drive an Xfinity car, and it started way before that. I met Junior when I was 19 years old when I moved to North Carolina to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing, and when I moved up here I moved into a house and rented a room from Mark McFarland, who was driving Dale Jr.’s Late Model and Hooters Cup car. So we would go over after working at Gibbs at 5 o’clock and I would go over to Junior’s and we would work on Mark’s Hooters Cup car and his Late Model. I spent a lot of time over there hanging out, helping them work on cars, drinking beer, partying, and all sorts of stuff, so I’ve been friends with Junior for a long time. Then, he was my boss when he gave me the opportunity to run his Xfinity car, and that propelled me into an opportunity to go Cup racing with Richard Petty. He was incredibly gracious when I had another year still left on my contract to drive an Xfinity car for him. When I got the phone call from ‘The King,’ I remember being so nervous to make that phone call to Junior, and I was like, ‘I have to do it.’ Richard Petty just got off the phone and said, ‘Hey, I want you to come drive the 43 car,’ so I called Dale and he answered and we talked about it and he said, ‘Absolutely. This is exactly why he started this program – to give guys an opportunity to go Cup racing and so, the fact that you have another year left on your contract, don’t worry about it. I’ll work that out with Kelly (Earnhardt) and our sponsors, but you need to go take this opportunity and you need to go Cup racing.’ And it was to go Cup racing against him. He was still Cup racing at the time. He’s a great person and he’s been incredibly gracious to me from the time I moved to North Carolina, befriending me and letting me be a part of everything. I’m really honored to have this opportunity to run this throwback scheme of his.”

Does this paint scheme mean even more now with your shared love of baseball with your son Alex?
“Absolutely. Having that bond with Alex over a shared passion for baseball certainly does mean more. Alex loves baseball. We’ve dabbled in all these sports, and he’s done a little bit of go-kart racing, as well, but his passion for baseball is superior to everything else, and I love it as well. To see Alex light up going to watch a baseball game, or the fact that a 10-year-old boy can sit on the couch and watch a whole nine-inning baseball game that most adults can’t do, and to share that interest with him is really special. Then you know, for me, to have this opportunity to run a baseball-themed racecar and to have that common bond with him certainly means more.”

Where did your love of baseball come from?
“This comes from my family growing up Hispanic in Tampa, Florida, like if you don’t play baseball there’s something wrong with you. My dad and my uncle played baseball, my stepdad played baseball, and my mom played softball. I had no choice but to play baseball. Everybody in my family and everybody around me played baseball and I loved it. I really enjoyed being at the baseball park. If I wasn’t at the go-kart shop working on my go-karts, I was at the baseball park practicing, or my stepbrother was practicing, or I was playing baseball games, and that’s really all I did. I went to school, I worked on go-karts, I played baseball and I raced. That was my life growing up, and the love that I have for the sport was just integrated into who I was because every single person around me loved the game.”

Do you enjoy racing at Darlington?
“I always enjoy going to Darlington. It is a really tough racetrack – they call it ‘Too Tough Too Tame’ and that’s the slogan for a reason. The technicality of that racetrack is so difficult. It’s not like any other racetrack we go to and I know that each and every racetrack is unique, but Darlington is very unique. It has two corners that are very different and the racing surface is very narrow. We predominately race up against the fence, so we’re at 180 miles an hour and you’re trying to run 1 to 2 inches off the wall with very little room for error. One little slip and one little slide and you’re in the fence, so it’s just a very difficult racetrack, but that’s why we all love it. You’ve got to make sure it stays good on long runs. Darlington is notorious for wearing out tires, so you’ve got to have a car that has good grip and not wearing out the tires. Qualifying is important, too. You’ve got to make sure you have a good day on pit road and make sure you’re not losing spots and just put together solid races on those types of tracks. You can’t really afford to lose any positions because it’s so difficult to make them back up.”

After showing improvement with the intermediate-track package last weekend at Kansas, do you expect improvement this weekend at Darlington?
“This intermediate package definitely improved last weekend at Kansas. I feel like as a team we really found something and we made an OK day out of it. I drove up to 13th and spun out, went a lap down and then drove back to 13th. I felt like we had a good car at Kansas and it was leaps and bounds better than what we saw at Dover. Darlington is obviously a much more unique track with tire fall-off, but we have shown consistent speed at Darlington through the years, so I think we can have a really good shot at it this weekend to bounce back. I feel like we have really been building all year and just haven’t seen the finishes that we deserve. We have had really good runs and gotten into some trouble and made some mistakes. We finished well there last year in both races and have some notes to improve on, as well, so we’re not just going in blind with this NextGen car.