North Wilkesboro/All-Star Advance
No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing
● Event: NASCAR All-Star Race (non-points race)
● Time/Date: 8 p.m. EDT on Sunday, May 21
● Location: North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway
● Layout: .625-mile oval
● Laps/Miles: 200 laps/125 miles
● TV/Radio: FS1 / MRN / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Notes of Interest
● Almirola grew up watching his racing heroes compete at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway and dreamed of one-day taking laps himself on the iconic .625-mile oval. This weekend, his dream will come true. Not only is he looking forward to racing on the track’s original asphalt surface, but also for the chance to compete for $1 million and a trip to victory lane. While the season has been rocky for the 39-year-old veteran, the No. 10 team’s short-track program has shown significant speed. Almirola kicked off the year by winning his heat in the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and leading the field to green in the feature race. The Smithfield driver continued to show top-five speed on the mile oval at Phoenix Raceway and the .75-mile Richmond (Va.) Raceway oval, and had a car capable of winning at on the half-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway oval.
● Martinsville’s .536-mile paperclip-shaped oval is the most comparable configuration to North Wilkesboro, which last hosted a NASCAR event in 1996. That bodes well for Almirola and the No. 10 team. He’s finished inside the top-10 in five of his last nine Martinsville starts, and his sixth-place finish there in his most recent visit April 16 is his highest finish of the season.
● Almirola will have to race his way into Sunday night’s All-Star Race by finishing first or second in the All-Star Open that precedes it, but he’s no stranger to racing his way in. In eight All-Star Open (or Sprint Showdown, as it was previously known), Almirola has one win, which came in 2021 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, and he’s finished outside the top-10 just twice. Almirola can also advance to the featured All-Star Race by winning the NASCAR Fan Vote. Fans can submit one ballot each day until 9 a.m. EDT Sunday.
● After years of complexity, the 2023 version of the All-Star Race has opted for simplicity. Two heat races on Saturday will set the starting lineup for Sunday’s main event – a 200 lapper with a competition break at or around lap 100. All laps (caution and green-flag) will count, and overtime rules are in effect to ensure a green-flag finish. Each team will start on sticker tires and have three additional sets to use. After the competition break, however, only one additional set of stickers can be used. The undercard All-Star Open, featuring drivers not previously eligible for the All-Star Race, will be 100 laps with a competition break at or around lap 40. Three Open drivers will advance to the All-Star Race – the top two race finishers and the NASCAR fan vote winner. All-Star festivities begin Friday evening with the Pit Crew Challenge to determine the starting lineups for the heat races and Open. Each car’s qualifying position will be based solely on its pit stop time. Teams must complete a four-tire stop; timing lines will be established one box behind and one box ahead of the designated pit box. The 22 drivers already locked into the All-Star Race field will be split into two 60-lap heat races on Saturday night, which will determine the starting lineup for Sunday’s main event. Results of the first heat will establish the inside row and results of the second heat will establish the outside row. The weekend concludes Sunday night with the All-Star Open and All-Star Race. Technical rules for the cars will remain the same as other NASCAR Cup Series short-track races. Those eligible for the All-Star Race include drivers who won a points event in either 2022 or 2023, drivers who won an All-Star Race and compete fulltime, and drivers who won a NASCAR Cup Series championship and compete fulltime.
● 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 are you looking forward to the most in your debut at the iconic North Wilkesboro Speedway?
“Just racing on that iconic racetrack. I think back to when I was a kid watching Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip when I was 6 or 7 years old and I was a fan of the sport. I’ve driven past it so many times on my way to Bristol and always dreamed of how cool it would be to race at North Wilkesboro, and now we get to do it.”
What is going to be the key challenge to racing at North Wilkesboro?
“Traction, traction, traction, trying to get those tires to hook up to that old asphalt. We are going to be driving these cars and I bet after about five laps we will not be able to get to wide-open throttle. You are going to be driving like there is an egg literally under the gas pedal. You have to push it down so slow and so smooth to try and make those rear tires stick to the track.”
You have to race your way into the All-Star Race this weekend. How do you feel about your chances, and how much pressure is there to make the main event?
“I feel like our short-track program is really strong and we run really good at Martinsville and really good at Richmond, and I feel like we’ll have a really good shot to race our way in. It certainly does add a lot of pressure. I’ve been in the Cup Series for 12 years and I’ve been in five or six All-Star races. It’s a huge deal to walk up on that stage for driver introductions, and you’re in that All-Star Race, you’re a part of the show. That’s what every racecar driver wants to do. The last thing you want to do is go up there with your race team and go home when the big show is still going to happen, so the All-Star Race is a big deal because of the fact that not everyone gets to race it, and it puts a lot of pressure on the guys in the Open to where they go all out and put it all on the line. You do not want to be watching it at home knowing you could race for a million dollars.”