|What is going to make ISM Raceway difficult this time?
“I think Phoenix is going to have some new challenges with the reconfiguration of the track and the start-finish line moving. I think it will make restarts awfully entertaining for the fans, and crazy and chaotic for us. There are going to be a lot of different strategies and things, and pit road is going to be different, too. There are some unknowns, and with these unknowns come different strategies and chaos.”
With the starting line being moved at Phoenix, how will that change things?
“I think it will just make the restarts really hectic and interesting. We are not allowed to pass until we get to the start-finish line. So I think when you look at Phoenix with the start-finish line being before the dogleg, I would imagine that we will cross the start-finish line and be nine-wide going through the dog leg and then try to figure out how to get back to two-wide by the time we get to the new turn one. That is a really flat, tricky corner. Running much more than two-wide is pretty difficult through there. I am sure it will fan out and get really exciting. I think when it gets down late in the race, the restarts will be really, really intense and chaotic with guys trying to make moves in desperation and trying to make that final round of four. You can run two-wide through the old (turns) three and four, the new one and two I guess it will be. You can run two-wide pretty comfortably through there. I think there is potential for us to be four-, five-, six-wide going through that dogleg. We have seen that when it was just the back straightaway, so now going through the gears will be pretty crazy.”
Pit stops have become more important. How much attention to detail is being paid to them?
“Pit stops are important, but everything is important. Especially this part of the season when you’re trying to go for a championship. No stone can be left unturned. The car has to be fast, the driver has to do his part, the pit crew has to be perfect, everything has to come together and you have to be perfect to win these races and to win a championship. That’s what everybody strives for all year long, but really, when we get to this part of the season it’s a must.”
Have you had a chance to talk with Joey (Logano) about Texas?
“Joey and I talked. We talked on the phone (Monday). I think we both know where each of us stands and I feel good about it. I know a lot of people are confused at why I was upset when you look at the replay but the reality is that, as racecar drivers, we both know the situation that we were in, and he knows kind of where my head was at and what I was thinking. I know where his head was at and what he was thinking, and we’ll move on. We’ll go from there.”
Did you and Joey kind of agree to disagree, or are you good?
“We’re good. I think when you look back at it, Texas is just a challenging racetrack to run two-wide at. The tire is extremely hard that Goodyear brings there because of the repave. The track is extremely wide, but the groove is very narrow, and so it’s really hard to run side by side. When you do run side by side, if you’re wheel to wheel and the cars are perfectly even with each other, the car on the inside is extremely vulnerable and it’s really hard to drive your car. You saw it in the Xfinity race, you see it in all the restarts in the Cup race – that car on the inside just gets incredibly loose. So I expected and I thought one thing and that didn’t end up being the case. I was hoping he’d cut me a break, to be quite honest, and that didn’t happen to be the case. I feel like if we go to Homestead and, for whatever reason I wasn’t in the championship, that he would expect the same out of me. He would expect me to cut him a break if we restarted with 30 laps to go and he was third and I was fourth, I feel like he would expect me to cut him a break and let him go race for a championship, and that’s kind of what I was hoping for. Whether that was wrong or right of me is beside the point. I was mad and upset, and it didn’t work out for me. I went from running third to running eighth, and I didn’t think I was the best car. I didn’t think I was just going to go up there and drive around the 4 (Kevin Harvick) or the 12 (Ryan Blaney). But what I did think is, if I could just get through (turns) three and four and be third, that if something happened with the 4 and the 12, I’d be in position to capitalize on that. When I got loose under Joey, I lost that opportunity, so I was mad. These are high-pressure times and the intensity level is incredibly high and emotions run high in situations like this. I got cameras and microphones stuck in my face immediately upon getting out of the car and being upset, and everybody heard it.”
Do you let the criticism from Texas bother you?
“If I worried about what other people thought, I wouldn’t be here where I’m at today. People are always going to criticize, especially on social media. It gives people whose opinions mean absolutely nothing a platform to say whatever it is that they want. I really could care less what anybody thinks about what I said or what I did or anything about Texas or otherwise. The people’s opinions that matter the most to me are Tony Stewart, Gene Haas, all the guys on my 10 team and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing, the people at Smithfield, Ford Motor Company – the people who directly impact my life and my career. All that outside stuff is just noise.”
|ISM Raceway Notes of Interest:
- Aric Almirola will make his 279th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series startSunday at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.
- Almirola earned his second career Cup Series win Oct. 14 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and his first while driving for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
- With Almirola’s win, all four SHR entries have at least one win this season.
- Almirola’s Talladega win gave crew chief Johnny Klausmeier his first win as a full-time crew chief.
- The Smithfield is seventh in the playoff standings heading into the final race in the Round of 8 of the playoffs.
- SHR occupies 50 percent of the playoff field.
- Almirola has earned three top-10 finishes in 15 Cup Series starts at Phoenix.
- Two of those top-10 finishes have been in the two most recent events at the desert mile.
- Almirola drove the Bacon for Life Ford Fusion into victory lane at Talladega, but that doesn’t mean the promotion is over. One lucky person will win bacon for life by purchasing a specially marked package of bacon and entering the code onSmithfield.com/BaconForLife. The sweepstakes ends on Dec. 31.
- The Round of 8 is the furthest Almirola has advanced in the playoffs in his Cup Series career.
- The 34-year-old has led 181 laps this season, the most in his Cup Series career.
- The SHR team is the only four-car organization with all of its entries locked into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
- Ford has 17 wins this season with 12 of the victories coming from the SHR camp – Harvick with eight, Clint Bowyer with two and Kurt Busch and Almirola each with one.Harvick also captured the $1 million grand prize with a victory at the non-points-paying All-Star Race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
- Johnny Klausmeier is in his first full-time season as a Cup Series crew chief. The native of Perry Hall, Maryland 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 now one time as a full-time crew chief. As a race engineer at SHR, Klausmeier has worked with drivers Ryan Newman, Danica Patrick and, most recently, Kurt Busch.
- Smithfield joined SHR this season and will be the primary partner for the majority of the season on the No. 10 Ford Fusion 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.
- The 2018 season marks the 10th anniversary of SHR. The Kannapolis, North-Carolina-based team is co-owned by Stewart and Gene Haas and has recorded 51 victories and 43 poles since its inception in 2009. Stewart won the 2011 NASCAR Cup Series title and Harvick gave SHR its second title in 2014. SHR’s Kurt Busch won last year’s Daytona 500, and Harvick won June 25 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Nov. 5 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Harvick scored back-to-back-to-back victories – Feb. 25 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, March 4 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and March 11 at ISM Raceway near Phoenix – then back-to-back wins May 6 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, May 12 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, July 22 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and August 12 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, and Nov. 4 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Harvick also won the non-points-paying Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte. Clint Bowyer scored his two wins March 26 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and June 10 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn and Busch captured the victory Aug. 18 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, and Almirola at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on Oct. 14.