The No. 10 Smithfield / #GoodFoodChallenge Ford Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) makes its way to historic Darlington (S.C.) Raceway for Sunday’s resumption of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season with two goals in mind – cross the finish line first to secure a spot in the NASCAR playoffs, and earn as many donations as possible to Feeding America on behalf of Smithfield.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Almirola’s longtime sponsor Smithfield Foods was quick to develop a way to help families in need through the support of Feeding America with protein donations. On March 26, Smithfield launched the Good Food Challenge with the goal of providing more than 10 million meals. Just a few weeks later, Smithfield committed to donating more than 40 million servings of protein to Feeding America. Now, Smithfield and Almirola are asking for help.
“All you have to do is open your phone and use the hashtag #GoodFoodChallenge between May 12 and May 21,” Almirola said. “Every time someone uses this hashtag, they instantly provide 10 servings of protein to Feeding America. That’s hard to pass up on. We’re obviously extremely excited to get back to racing and compete for a championship, but it’s even more exciting to have the opportunity to help those in need in these tough times by typing three words on your phone and clicking send. I’m blessed to be partnered with a company who, in these times, uses our partnership to give back.”
In addition to using the hashtag, donations can be made via the website www.SmithfieldGoodFoodChallenge.com. The Smithfield / #GoodFoodChallenge Ford Mustang scheme will debut at Darlington for Sunday’s 400-mile race and will hit the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval again on Wednesday, May 20.
After nine weeks without racing with the COVID-19 shutdowns preventing large gatherings, drivers, fans and industry members are excited to get back on track as one of the first major sports to resume competition. In the interests of the safety and well-being of NASCAR’s loyal fans, the grandstands will be empty, but live television coverage by FOX will deliver the races to its viewers beginning Sunday as drivers battle it out for the first time since March 8 at Phoenix.
Almirola and the No. 10 Ford team head to the 1.366-mile oval eighth in the point standings after consecutive eighth-place finishes at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, and Phoenix Raceway. Almirola looks to continue that momentum Sunday at the track “Too Tough to Tame.”
“I’d like to think we can pick right back up or even be better,” Almirola said. “That’s one reason I have faith in Buga (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz). During this time, he’s really been focused on working from home with the team guys. He has stayed engaged with everyone. We have still been together a lot as a team on video calls. We really wanted to continue to grow every week even if we’re not at the track. We hope to go out there and keep the top-10 streak going. It’s going to be difficult at Darlington because we as a team don’t really have any notes at Darlington working together. We’re going to have to go off of Mike’s previous knowledge from last year’s race with his car and the package and I’ll have to look at my notes from last year. We’ll have to mesh those together and hope for the best-case scenario. Then we’ll drop the green flag and go race.”
Not only does Almirola and the No. 10 team face the difficulties of racing at Darlington for the first time together, but a comprehensive health and safety plan put in place by NASCAR means all upcoming races will be one-day shows with personal protective equipment mandated for all members at-track, health screenings for all individuals before entering the facility, strict social distancing guidelines, and limits on the number of team personnel who are granted access.
“First off, I applaud NASCAR for taking every precaution necessary,” Bugarewicz said. “We’re grateful to be able to race in these circumstances. It’s going to be a challenge to have limited resources at the track with the number of guys we can take, though. I think the tech process will be fine. The hardest part is the pit crew. We’ll still have our pit crew but, the problem is, behind the wall you still had your road crew that had other duties during that pit stop, so we have to figure out how to make that as easy as possible. The biggest challenge at this time is to figure out as a company how to safely get people back to work. We’re not flooding people back to the shop and taking risks. There are very limited crews, so the process takes longer. It involves a lot of communication between everybody. Road guys aren’t going to see shop guys, so you have to make sure something isn’t overlooked that could take you out of the race early because it was overlooked.”
Despite the unknowns over the last few months and the challenges the new regulations bring, like everyone else, Almirola is just excited to get back to racing.
“It will be exciting,” he said. “There are a lot of unknowns. A lot of variables racing at Darlington on a green racetrack. No rubber down from practice. No tire wear. All of those things are things that the crew chiefs and all of us are thinking about. As much uncertainty as there is and as much worry as there is, we’re all just excited. We all just want to go back racing. I think that’s the most common feeling among all of us. We’re just excited to get back on the racetrack. We’re just happy to give our fans something to cheer for again. It gives everyone a sense of hope and excitement as we move forward.”