● History at Fontana: In 14 cup series starts at Fontana, Aric Almirola has three top-10 finishes and seven laps led, all coming since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018. He finished sixth in his most recent start. Almirola will race for his fourth consecutive top-10 finish at Fontana this weekend.
● Last weekend at Daytona Almirola won his Duel qualifying race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for the second time in three years and earned the fourth starting spot in Sunday’s 65th edition of The Great American Race. He led a race-high eight times for a total of 16 laps. It was the most laps he’s led in 23 NASCAR Cup Series starts at Daytona. The No. 10 Smithfield Ford driver was involved in an accident on the final lap and finished 21st.
● Driver Points: Almirola arrives at Fontana 13th in the driver standings with 29 points.
● Drew Blickensderfer returns as crew chief for the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for the second year in a row and for the fourth season overall with Almirola. Blickensderfer and Almirola were together in 2017 and 2018 at Richard Petty Motorsports. The Illinois native is no stranger to victory lane at Fontana’s 2-mile oval. In 2009, just a week after winning the Daytona 500 with NASCAR Hall of Famer Matt Kenseth, Blickensderfer won again with Kenseth at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, making him the fifth crew chief to score back-to-back wins to start a season.
● Almirola’s career: In 425 NASCAR Cup Series starts, Almirola has earned three wins, 28 top-five finishes, 91 top-10s, three poles, and has led 990 laps.
● Smithfield Foods rejoins Almirola and the No. 10 Ford team as the anchor sponsor for the 2023 NASCAR season. Fans will see the iconic white, black, and gold scheme adorn Almirola’s Ford Mustang with IHOP on the lower side panel. 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.
● Back for More: Last year, Almirola announced that he would step down from fulltime racing following the 2022 season.Through the course of the year, he discovered a new balance between his passion for racing and dedication to his family. His wife Janice, and kids Alex and Abby, joined him on most race weekends, oftentimes enjoying once-in-a-lifetime experiences together as they traveled the country. His rapport with crew chief Blickensderfer flourished, and the intense pressure he had put on himself was replaced with the joy of simply being present. Not only did Almirola see the sport from a new perspective, so did anchor partner Smithfield Foods, who broached the subject of Almirola returning to fulltime racing in 2023. On Aug. 26 in the media center of Daytona, Almirola, SHR and Smithfield Foods announced his return with a multiyear agreement and Smithfield’s largest allotment of races since joining the team in 2018.
● Beyond the 10 YouTube Series: In 2023, Almirola will continue to share his life beyond the No. 10 Smithfield 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 it 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.
What will it take to have a successful season?
“We have to minimize mistakes and take advantage of opportunities when we have fast racecars. Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) and the 10 team know what it takes and they’re one of the most motivated teams in the garage. If the driver can minimize mistakes and the pit crew stays on top of it like they did in Daytona, and we continue to put all of the pieces together, we’ll be in contention for a top-10 every weekend. The goal is to be consistent so when we do have top-10 cars, we make it a top-five day, and when we have a top-five car, we capitalize and go for wins. The field is so competitive with the new car, so you have to be sharper than ever.”
With that said, how do you prepare for the race weekend? Is the simulator the most important tool?
“Yeah, it’s extremely important – arguably the most important tool we have because it’s the only thing we have to allow us to go and test and change setups and change things on the racecar prior to going to that event. In years past, we could go to the racetrack and we could completely overhaul the setup on the racecar after practice. We can’t do that anymore. We show up to the racetrack and we can change minimal things on the racecar before qualifying. And once we qualify, the setup is locked into the car for the race. So we have to rely on that simulator heavily to guide us and lead us in the direction that we’re going to go with the setup of our racecar.”
You ran well at Fontana last year in the Next Gen car’s debut. How much more helpful will those notes be heading back there this weekend?
“I personally do best when I’m prepared. I thrive when I can study and outwork the guys I’m competing against. I can’t just wing it when it comes to performing. Last year, we relied heavily on guessing and hoping the setup was right. This year I get the opportunity to take notes not only from myself but from Ford and Stewart-Haas Racing as a whole. We saw at the Clash that we could turn a bad car in first practice into a heat-winning car that started us on the pole because we have notes and learned from last year. At Daytona, we qualified fourth and won our Duel race and had a fast car, so yeah, notes are really important, and knowing we came from the rear of the field last year to sixth (at Fontana) gives us a big boost of confidence.”