|The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is off to an event-filled start for Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion team. After a busy week and a half in Daytona Beach, Florida, the season kicked off Sunday with the 60th running of the Daytona 500. Almirola found himself in the middle of a thrilling finish in “The Great American Race” and, after an 11th-place finish, he now turns his focus on this Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The Tampa, Florida, native was leading heading into turn three on the final lap of Sunday’s Daytona 500 before contact from behind from the racing-winning car of Austin Dillon sent Almirola into the outside SAFER Barrier. Despite the last-lap accident, Almirola feels he’s already off to one of the best starts in his Cup Series career.
This weekend at Atlanta marks the start of NASCAR’s bread-and-butter style of tracks – 1.5-mile ovals. The intermediate tracks fulfill the majority of the 36-race-weekend schedule and it will be the first true test for the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team. In January, Almirola and the team led by crew chief Johnny Klausmeier participated in a Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway for their first unofficial track time as a unit. With a solid 1.5-mile test under their belt, Almirola and the Smithfield team look to carry that momentum into the second race of the 2018 season.
Almirola will hit the old Atlanta track surface this weekend looking to improve his current highest finishing position of ninth at the Hampton, Georgia track. The 33-year-old has made seven Cup Series starts from which to glean experience at the 1.54-mile oval and he’s completed 98.2 percent of the possible laps.
Smithfield, a brand of Smithfield Foods, which is based approximately five hours northeast of SHR headquarters in Smithfield, Virginia, enters its seventh season with Almirola and first with SHR. The company will once again adorn the No. 10 Ford Fusion this weekend at Atlanta. 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.
In addition to his Cup Series starts, Almirola has three Xfinity Series races under his belt at Atlanta. In his Xfinity Series career, the newest SHR driver completed 550 of 553 possible circuits around the track. Almirola also has made four starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Atlanta with two top-five finishes.
Although several mile-and-a-half tracks have gone through track surface repaves, Atlanta is one that officials made the decision not to repave. The current rough and aged surface facilitates several racing lines and allows more passing opportunities than freshly repaved tracks, making for a more entertaining race for fans.
Almirola knows the importance of every race weekend and is looking forward to the second stop of the year on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit with the No. 10 Smithfield team. “It’s incredible to have a team like this that has had so much success and won championships and won races,” he said. “To have all of that at my fingertips is really a dream come true. I’m so excited about getting the season going. I’m a firm believer in talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words, and I just want to get in the racecar and go race.”
This weekend’s event is the eighth Cup Series race Almirola has participated in at Atlanta and it marks his 246th Cup Series start in his young career.