● This weekend’s season finale at Phoenix Raceway will be a bittersweet one for Aric Almirola. Last weekend, the 39-year-old announced via social media that he would officially step away from the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang Cup Series entry at Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) and is excited for his next adventure. More than a year ago, Almirola announced he would retire from fulltime cup series racing to spend more time with family. 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. When SHR and sponsor Smithfield Foods asked him to reconsider, he did. This time around, the Almirola family is ready for the next adventure.
● Almirola’s career: Almirola came to SHR in 2018 after spending six fulltime Cup Series seasons at Richard Petty Motorsports. In his first year with SHR, he finished a career-best fifth in the championship standings after earning a spot in the 16-driver NASCAR Playoffs, advancing to the Round of 8 for the first time. He won his second career NASCAR Cup Series race Oct. 14 that year at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway as part of a season-long tally that included four top-five finishes and 17 top-10s and 181 laps led, surpassing all of his previous single-season highs in those categories. Almirola enjoyed an impressive run of four consecutive playoff appearances from 2018 to 2021. His third career win came at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on July 18, 2021.
● NASCAR Cup Series Stats: In Almirola’s 460 career Cup Series starts, he has earned three wins, 30 top-fives, 96 top-10s, six poles, and has led 1,147 laps. Of those totals, two wins, five poles, 19 top-fives, 64 top-10s and 971 laps led came in his six seasons with SHR. Almirola’s Cup Series career has typically been synonymous with the title “superspeedway ace,” thanks to his consistency at the most inconsistent wild card tracks. With his third-place finish in the June 2020 race at Talladega, Almirola tied the record of eight consecutive Talladega top-10s set by Dale Earnhardt Jr., from April 2001 to October 2004. In his very first start with SHR, Almirola led the Daytona 500 with half a lap to go before he was contacted and sent into the wall – a near Daytona 500 championship for the native of Tampa, Florida.
● Going out strong: Almirola is not going out without a fight. In fact, He and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford team nearly took home a Martinsville (Va.) Speedway Grandfather clock trophy last weekend. He led 66 laps en route to a runner-up finish. .899 of a second behind race-winner Ryan Blaney. It was Almirola’s best finish at Martinsville and highest finish since his New Hampshire win in 2021. He will race for his third consecutive top-10 Sunday at Phoenix.
● History at Phoenix Raceway: Phoenix is the track where Almirola has arguably been most consistent in recent years. In his last 12 starts there, he has earned six top-10s – two of those being top-fours. He’s also led 33 laps in his 25 career starts at the mile oval. In March, Almirola had a strong top-10 run at Phoenix until a loose wheel sent him into the wall and drew a penalty for the No. 10 team, which put him multiple laps down. Almirola has seven NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Phoenix with a best finish of sixth in the November 2010 race, and a pole qualifying effort in the November 2011 race.
● 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.
You nearly won at Martinsville last weekend after leading 66 laps. How did it feel to almost bring home the win in what could be your last Cup Series start at Martinsville?
“I’m still on my game. I’ll go out knowing I can still compete at the top of the highest level. That one stung, though. My whole family was there to support me and I really wanted to get my 10 guys and Stewart-Haas to victory lane one last time. I wanted it for everyone who has supported me and believed in me.”
How do you feel heading to Phoenix this weekend?
“Hopefully it feels like a celebration. I’ll have some family and friends come out to see me race and I hope it feels like a celebration of the many incredible years at the top level. It’s bittersweet, but I’m excited for the weekend and excited for the next adventure. I just have a lot of joy and gratitude heading into this weekend. It would be awesome to unload a fast car and cap it off with a solid run like we’ve had the last two weekends.”
How do you reflect on your time at Stewart-Haas Racing?
“It’s been great. Obviously, as a racecar driver and as a competitor, you always want more. I would have loved to have won more races and won a championship. That’s what I went over there for. I have won some races, so I’m proud of that and we’ve had a lot of success, but I think at the end of the day that’s temporary. The friendships that I’ve made, the relationships that I’ve made, all of that will last forever and I’m grateful for that. I really am. I’m very grateful for the six years that I’ve showed up to work every day there and they treat me like family. I feel extremely close to all of the employees over there and they brought me in with welcoming arms when I showed up in 2018 and it has been a really fun ride ever since.”
This is the last race of your fulltime Cup Series career. How do you want to be remembered in the series?
“Just as a genuine person, honestly. The wins and all of that stuff, that’s all temporary, it really is. I had to learn this the hard way, but you don’t gain happiness and satisfaction from going to victory lane. You gain momentary joy, but it’s not long-lasting. As soon as that weekend is over, you immediately are focused on the next week and wanting to go do it again and, if you don’t, the next week if you finish 25th you’re mad and you’re bummed out and you’re disappointed and so that cycle of emotions I’ve come to realize is very temporary. But what is lasting is friendships and people you care about and doing things that you enjoy with people you enjoy. And so, for me, that’s what I want to keep doing. I want to keep working. I want to get up in the morning with a purpose. I want to go do something. I want to try and make somebody else better. For 40 years of my life, I’ve focused on just me. I’ve served myself and worried about what’s best for me and what’s best for my career and all of those things, so as I look to the future, I want to make sure that I’m focusing on trying to help others achieve their goals. From what I’ve heard in talking to a lot of people and reading a lot of books about people’s next chapter in life, that’s typically how you get the most satisfaction, trying to figure out how to serve others.”
Do you regret coming back fulltime this year?
“Not one bit. I have zero regrets because I know that it was the right decision. It was the right decision for the race team. It was the right decision for Smithfield and it was the right decision for me and my family. We’ve gotten to experience some things. Obviously, I wanted more success and more wins, absolutely. But, man, we have gotten to do some awesome things as a family. We’ve gotten to do some cool trips, experience different things. Honestly, the (NASCAR Xfinity Series) race win at Sonoma wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t come back this year. As insignificant as it would seem to many people, winning that Xfinity race at Sonoma with my family there with me and, the next week was our off week, which allowed us to really just enjoy it and celebrate it. And my wife and kids were in victory lane – we really cherished it. We soaked it all in. That moment, several other moments throughout the year like that, we would have never had and I do not regret one minute of this season. There have been trials, absolutely. But who doesn’t go through trials in life? I didn’t expect this year to be easy. I knew it would be a challenge. I knew that there would be ups and downs, but I signed up for it and I don’t regret one minute.”