Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), heads to the first road-course race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season looking to better his career-best finish of eighth place last year at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
The Northern California track proved to be a challenging one for Almirola in his first six cup starts there with a best finish of 14th. But, after cracking the top-10 for the first time there last year, he heads to this weekend’s SaveMart 350k with more confidence than ever. That same weekend last year, Almirola turned laps in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series race, in which he started fifth and finished second.
For the first time since 1997, Sonoma’s full, 12-turn layout, which was unveiled when the facility opened in 1968, will be used for Sunday’s Cup Series race. It includes the raceway’s signature sweeping downhill series of corners known as “The Carousel.” It plunges from turn four, down through turns five and six, and navigates a more than 200-degree-radius turn before dropping onto the longest straightaway through the turn-seven hairpin.
“Sonoma is going to be tricky,” now,” Almirola said. “A lot of drivers get in a rhythm and a routine and you can visualize the track before you even make your first lap of practice. You have an idea where you’re going to run on the track and where your braking points are going to be. Now, going back to Sonoma, it’s going to be drastically different. We’re going to crest the hill at turn 3A and we’re not going to drive all the way down that straightaway into the old turn four and bounce off that curb. We’re going to have to immediately slow down and turn right onto the small straightaway, then into The Carousel, and that drastically changes your mindset for the whole lap and the flow that you’re used to.”
Physical and mental preparation are key to Almirola’s success on and off the track. He spent the entire Tuesday afternoon with his team at the Ford Performance simulator to log laps on Sonoma’s full road-course configuration.
This week, Almirola announced that fans can now get VIP, behind-the-scenes access in following “Aric ‘Beyond the 10’” by subscribing to his YouTube channel and following episodes on Facebook and Instagram TV. Episodes will showcase never-before-seen footage of Almirola at the racetrack, on family trips, and “A Day in the Life” during the week, as well as all that goes into a NASCAR Cup Series driver’s season. Click here to subscribe on YouTube and watch the latest episode.
“NASCAR fans get better access to professional athletes and drivers than any other sport,” Almirola said. “I’m excited to take the fans a step further into the hard work, preparation and ups and downs that happen during a race season, as well as real life with my family. We want to show current and non-sports fans how demanding and exciting racing in NASCAR’s top series really is.”
Sonoma marks the 13th weekend the iconic black-and-white Smithfield livery will adorn Almirola’s No. 10 Ford Mustang. Smithfield, a brand of Smithfield Foods, which is based approximately five hours northeast of SHR headquarters in Smithfield, Virginia, is in its eighth season with Almirola and its second with SHR. 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 35-year-old Ford driver has earned one pole award, one top-five, eight top-10s and has led 100 laps through 15 races this season. His qualifying efforts have also been strong with five front-row starts and eight top-five starts this season.
Almirola sits 11th in the driver standings with 426 points, 188 behind leader and fellow Ford driver Joey Logano.
Aric Almirola: Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What will be the most difficult part of learning Sonoma’s new configuration?
“I’ve been going to Sonoma since 2012 with the same exact setup and trying to perfect my technique. It’s going to be challenging. That whole section of The Carousel and that long straightaway that leads up to the old turn seven is now a passing zone. It’s going to be difficult to try and figure out the braking zones and on the restarts to figure out when the best opportunity to pass is.”
What do you need at Sonoma to be successful?
“Patience and grip. Sonoma is really low on grip, and it’s really slow and technical compared to Watkin Glen.”
No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang Team Report
Round 16 of 36 – SaveMart 350k – Sonoma
Car No. 10: Smithfield Ford Mustang Team Report
Driver: Aric Almirola
Hometown: Tampa, Florida
Crew Chief: John Klausmeier
Hometown: Perry Hall, Maryland
Car Chief: Chad Haney
Hometown: Fairmont, West Virginia
Engine Builder: Roush Yates Engines
Headquarters: Mooresville, North Carolina
Engine Specialist: Jon Phillips
Hometown: Jefferson City, Missouri
Spotter: Joel Edmonds
Hometown: Dobson, North Carolina
Fuelman: Jeremy Howard
Hometown: Dalhart, Texas
Front Changer: Daniel Coffey
Hometown: Granite Falls, North Carolina
Carrier: Jon Bernal
Hometown: Shelby, North Carolina
Rear Changer: Chris McMullen
Hometown: Canton, Michigan
Jackman: Brett Morell
Hometown: Windham, Maine
Transporter Driver: Todd Cable and Scott Robins
Hometowns: Shelby, North Carolina, and Woodsville, New Hampshire, respectively
Tire Technician: Keith Eads
Hometown: Arlington, Virginia
Shock Specialist: Brian Holshouser
Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina
Engineers: Mike Cook and Marc Hendricksen
Hometowns: Annapolis, Maryland, and Clinton, New Jersey, respectively
Underneath Mechanic: Stephen Gonzalez
Hometown: Mooresville, North Carolina
Front End Mechanic: J.D. Frey
Hometown: Ferndale, California
Interior Mechanic: Trevor Adams
Hometown: Naples, Florida
Notes of Interest:
● Aric Almirola will make his 296th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his eighth at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
● Almirola has one top-10 in seven career races at Sonoma. His best finish of eighth came last year.
● Career: Almirola has career totals of two wins, two poles, 16 top-five finishes, 57 top-10s and 457 laps led in 295 starts.
● 2019: Almirola has earned one pole, one top-five finish, eight top-10s and has led 100 laps in 15 races this season.
● Last win: Almirola’s Oct. 14, 2018 win at Talladega was his most recent in the Cup Series.
● Point standings: Almirola is 11th in the Cup Series standings with 426 points, 188 out of first place with 11 regular-season races remaining.
● Crew chief Johnny Klausmeier is in his second full-time season as a Cup Series crew chief. The Perry Hall, Maryland, native 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 one win as a crew chief for Almirola last fall at Talladega. As a race engineer at SHR, Klausmeier worked with drivers Ryan Newman, Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch.
● Smithfield rejoined SHR this season and is the primary partner for the majority of the season on the No. 10 Ford Mustang 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.
● ‘Beyond the 10’ – This week, Almirola announced that fans can now get VIP, behind-the-scenes access in following “Aric ‘Beyond the 10’” by subscribing to his YouTube channel and following episodes on Facebook and Instagram TV. Episodes will showcase never-before-seen footage of Almirola at the racetrack, on family trips, and “A Day in the Life” during the week, as well as all that goes into a NASCAR Cup Series driver’s season. Click here to subscribe on YouTube and watch the latest episode.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!