Almirola to Race the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion Beginning in 2018
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Nov. 8, 2017) – Stewart-Haas Racing has signed Aric Almirola to join its Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series lineup in 2018. The 33-year-old from Tampa, Florida, will drive the team's No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion. Almirola has won races in each of NASCAR's top-three national touring series and is currently in his sixth full season in the premier NASCAR Cup Series. Almirola has one NASCAR Cup Series victory, three NASCAR Xfinity Series wins and two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series triumphs.
"I've known Aric since 2004 and have always been impressed with him on the racetrack," said Tony Stewart, who co-owns Stewart-Haas Racing with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas. "I've raced with him and seen him mature into a really good racecar driver. He can compete for wins here at Stewart-Haas Racing and help our other drivers compete for wins. He's an excellent fit for this team and for Smithfield."
"This is the opportunity every racer wants," Almirola said. "Stewart-Haas Racing is an experienced organization with a lot of depth, great technical support from Ford, and staffed with racers from top to bottom. They lean on each other, challenge each other and make each other better. I'm really looking forward to being a part of that.
"I've known Tony Stewart since our time together at Joe Gibbs Racing. I know what he expects and he knows my commitment. I can't thank him and Smithfield enough for believing in me and providing this opportunity."
"This is a great moment for Aric, and Smithfield is very happy to be a part of it because it's a great opportunity for our company," said John Pauley, executive vice president of sales and marketing, Smithfield. "Obviously, we strongly believe in Aric's ability and that of Stewart-Haas Racing, and those abilities transcend the racetrack. They want to consistently run up front and contend for wins, but they're also very interested in helping us win in the marketplace. This is a strong partnership with outgoing personalities who are driven to succeed."
Almirola's path to NASCAR started in his home state of Florida, beginning in karting in 1992 before advancing to open-wheel modifieds in 2000 and then late-model stock cars in 2002. In late 2003 at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Almirola participated in a driver combine for Joe Gibbs Racing and was ultimately selected as one of the first two drivers for Gibbs' diversity program, which launched in 2004. Almirola became a teammate of Stewart's, who was in his sixth year as a NASCAR Cup Series driver and only two years removed from the first of his three NASCAR Cup Series championships.
Nine wins and 11 poles during the 2004-2005 seasons of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series allowed Almirola to advance from local short tracks in the southeast to a fulltime, national schedule in the Camping World Truck Series in 2006. A handful of Xfinity Series starts also came in 2006, and Almirola's NASCAR Cup Series debut took place on March 11, 2007 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, three days shy of his 23rd birthday.
TONY STEWART, Co-Owner, Stewart-Haas Racing – "Obviously, there are no secrets in our sport. There were spies everywhere, as you know, but extremely proud on behalf of everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing to announce that Aric Almirola is gonna be behind the wheel of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford next year. I'm real excited to have him on board. I've known Aric for a long time. We were teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing for a brief period and we're really good friends, too. We go to dirt races together and hang out and I think this is an opportunity we've both been looking forward to for a very long time. We're excited to have him on board and extremely proud to have Smithfield on board with us as well. They've been extremely awesome to work with at this point and a lot of fun. They're a great group of people and obviously have a lot of great products that I thoroughly enjoy as you can see, and I thoroughly will enjoy them for a long time. I'm excted to have both of these groups with us together and excited to finally get Aric on board here at Stewart-Haas Racing."
JOHN PAULEY, EVP of Sales and Marketing, Smithfield – "Like Tony said, we're extremely proud and pleased to be a part of Stewart-Haas. And the reason I'm sitting next to this guy on my left is because of the relationship we've had for the last six years. We're a performance-driven company. We've never made any excuses about that. We've had tremendous success in building our brands the last five to six years while we've been involved with NASCAR and Aric's knowledge of our company, our products, our culture is something that we were determined to keep. We love being a part of the NASCAR sporting world and we want to compete as well on the track as we've done off the track, so we couldn't be happier that this relationship happened."
ARIC ALMIROLA – No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion – "First of all, surprise. This is so cool. Christmas came early for me. This is an unbelievable day for me to have this opportunity. I've worked my whole life, my whole career for an opportunity like this – to come and be a part of a championship organization. I think you guys have won two of the last six championships and going for a third this year at Homestead, so I couldn't be more excited about this opportunity and to continue my relationship with Tony. Like he said, it goes back 14 years when I got to Joe Gibbs Racing as a diversity driver in their late model program. I would go to the Cup races and just because I was still a super-fan and Tony kind of took me under his wing. He befriended me and took me under his wing, plus he hated to go testing, so he would send me with Zippy to go testing. I spent a lot of time down in Florida at New Smyrna Speedway and Lakeland testing Tony's race car and running a lot of laps, so he's really been a great friend and somebody I've really looked up to in the racing world, and to have this opportunity to drive for him is very special. And then to continue my relationship with John and everybody at Smithfield Foods is amazing. We've had six great years together and we continue to build on that relationship and we're looking forward to competing for wins and championships. We feel like this is the place to do it, right here at Stewart-Haas Racing. They've obviously proven that they can win races week in and week out and contend for championships and I couldn't be more excited. The news is out and I feel such a weight lifted off my shoulders and I'm ready to get to Daytona. I can't tell you how many drivers are going to take the checkered flag at Homestead and be ready to relax and kick back, and I'm chomping at the bit. I can't wait to go race this race car."
QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION
ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED – WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE WAY THE CAR LOOKS? "It looks fast just sitting there. That is so cool to see that and to see Smithfield's corporate colors on there and to see my name on that door is just really special and I can't wait, like I said. I've watched these race cars go around the race track. I just addressed the shop before coming in here and I told all the guys in the shop that I'm salivating. I watch their race cars every week and see how fast they are and see how competitive they are week in and week out and I'm so excited about this opportunity to get in this race car. It's an amazing-looking race car. It looks fast just sitting still and I'm ready to go drive it."
JOHN PAULEY CONTINUED – WHAT'S IT LIKE TO SEE YOUR CORPORATE COLORS ON THE CAR? "As Aric said, we're very pleased with the color scheme and the way it appears. I hope you guys in the back can see the sides and what we've done to try to make it look faster just sitting where it is in place. These are the colors that represent our brand, mostly the black and the gold. It represents premium, it represents quality, it represents NASCAR, it represents fast, so we're excited."
TONY STEWART CONTINUED – THIS HARKENS BACK TO SOME OF THE SPRINT CARS YOU'VE HAD. "That and one of my favorite Home Depot cars that I drove was actually a black-and-white car at Richmond, so I've always liked black-and-white race cars. The car I drive, my sprint car is actually the base colors are black-and-white on it, so this is a car that I think will be easy to see on the race track. It's obviously, every year when everybody shows up at Daytona and we see what paint schemes are you see how many of them are close to yours and it makes it harder to see on the race track, but I think this is gonna be a car that's gonna be very easy to see on the race track, especially because it's gonna be up front this year too, so we're excited about that."
ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED – WHAT IS IT LIKE TO RESET YOUR CAREER HERE AT SHR? "It's exciting. I think for me to have this opportunity, I've said it already, it's like Christmas morning for me. I didn't sleep at all last night just so excited about coming and talking about this opportunity, but to have a chance at a fresh start. I've put a lot of thought into this and when you're a kid or when I was a kid I dreamed about just being a professional race car driver, and at 19 years old I turned into a professional race car driver. I actually got my first paycheck to drive a race car and I felt like I was at the top, and then as I did that for a while then you transition your goals and so after becoming a professional race car driver I was like, 'Man, I'd really like to go truck racing and then I did that. And then after truck racing it was like, 'I'd really like to go XFINITY racing.' Well then I've made it all the way to the top level of my sport and this is that final step, to be at the top team at the top level of the sport and I couldn't be more excited."
TONY STEWART CONTINUED – HOW ABOUT RESETTING THE 10 TEAM WITH A NEW DRIVER? "We don't know until we get on the race track, obviously. The thing to always remember is it's always about chemistry. Obviously, all four teams have the same cars it's just a matter of chemistry and how they communicate with each other. The thing for me is I remember when Aric was leading the race at Milwaukee and had qualified on the pole in Joe Gibbs' car and led every lap."
ARIC INTERJECTS: "Do we really have to keep talking about that?" TONY CONTINUES: "I want to make sure they haven't forgotten about that because Aric dominated that race and then had to get pulled out early, but the important part that was kind of overlooked was here's a guy that didn't have a lot of time in an XFINITY car that qualified on the pole and had led every lap of the race and not just led it, but dominated it at that point. I think a lot of people have forgotten that about Aric and how much talent he really has, and that's something I've never forgotten. I've always had that in my mind. Like I said, he's a great friend of mine and I knew that if we had the right opportunity to get him in the system that I think we can do great things together. That time is now and we're excited to finally give him that opportunity to showcase his talent."
JOHN PAULEY CONTINUED – ARE YOU LOOKING AT B-TO-B OPPORTUNITIES AND HOW SIGNIFICANT WILL THE BE FOR YOU? "It does play a role in our decision because of the relationship that they have with a Jimmy John's or an Outback and so forth, but, for us, that was just part of the decision-making process. I think being competitive was at the top of the list and as Tony alluded, we have a lot of confidence in Aric. He has won and he's shown that he can win and we just want to make sure that he has the right equipment and support and we feel like he's gonna get that here and, again, as a sponsor we couldn't be more proud or pleased that he's here."
ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED – THIS COMES A COUPLE MONTHS AFTER SMITHFIELD MOVED. WERE OTHER DRIVERS CONSIDERED? DID SHR HAVE THAT OPTION? "They have the option to do whatever they want. They're a successful race team and they hold all the cards. For Smithfield wanting to make the change and come over here to compete at a higher level, I think, was a decision they've made on their own, like John has talked about. Me and Tony, like we've said, we've been friends for a long time and I've always begged him for an opportunity for the last however many years to come over here and have a chance to drive for him, and it just so happened that all the cards came together this year, so I don't think it was anything independent or collective, I think it was just everything happened in the right timing and I firmly believe that in life a lot of things either happen or don't happen for a reason, and fortunately the good Lord was looking out for me and this opportunity just all came together. The timing was right and I couldn't be more excited about it."
TONY STEWART CONTINUED – HOW LONG IS THIS DEAL? IS SMITHFIELD FOR THE WHOLE SEASON? AND WHAT DID YOU SEE IN ARIC THE PAST FEW YEARS THAT MADE THIS OPPORTUNITY POSSIBLE? "I'll go with the last part first. Like I mentioned, I still remember a long time ago at Milwaukee. I've never forgotten that. It didn't matter the last couple of years. I mean, I knew if we got the right opportunity. As his friend, even if it wasn't with us I knew if he ever had the right opportunity to get with the right group and have the right chemistry that the results would show that. As far as the terms of the deal we never disclose that. There are too many rats out there with the other teams that try to go after your sponsors when they know you're in a contract year, so those are terms we like to keep in-house and not really disclose. Smithfield is for the full season."
WAS THERE ANY CONSIDERATION TO CHANGING THE CAR NUMBER FROM 10? "There was. We discussed one other number, but just like Hendrick Motorsports and Roush we were really encouraged to keep this number because it is part of Stewart-Haas Racing's history now and we wanted to keep that continuity with what we've had in the past."
ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED – HOW MUCH PRESSURE ARE YOU FEELING NOW THAT YOU'RE HERE? "No, I want the pressure. I think there are two types of athletes in the world. There are the athletes that are just excited to be a part of the show and there are the athletes that want to make the show, and I feel like I'm in the latter category. I want the pressure. I want the ball in my hands when it comes down to the game-winning shot. I want to drive the fastest race cars and I don't want to have an excuse that my equipment is not where it needs to be. This is that opportunity, so, yeah, absolutely, the pressure is on and I'm excited to accept that pressure because that means that I have the best team in the garage area, that means I have the fastest race cars and it's about chemistry and it's about me going out and doing my job. If that's all I have to worry about, then that's exactly what I've set out to do."
WHAT WOULD BE A SATISFYING GOAL FOR YOU TO REACH IN 2018? "I want to win races. Look in that shop right there and look at all those banners hanging up. They have obviously proven that they can win races. They can qualify on poles. They can win races. They can win championships and I need to be in that mix. I need to be able to help elevate my teammates. I need to contribute to the team and I want to go out and win races, and I think that's the best way I know how to contribute. I've had success at every other level that I've ever been in. I've won XFINITY races. I've won Truck races. I won Daytona in a Cup car, so I think, for me, I want to go win. I think anything short of winning and making the Playoffs would be a disappointment, but, at the same time, I think the competition is tough. Look at this organization right here and they've gotten on a roll. It was a big undertaking for them to switch manufacturers, but when you just look at how fast their cars have gotten in the last 10 weeks, that is really encouraging for me and I think the timing couldn't be more perfect to come in here after they have a year under their belt with working with everybody at Ford and Ford Performance on getting their cars where they need to be and the last 10 weeks you've seen their cars. Kurt Busch qualified on the pole and set a new track record this weekend. Harvick won the race, so they're poised to come out of the box strong and I think the timing is absolutely perfect. I'm excited to be in the car. I know I keep saying I'm excited, but it's because it's true. I am beyond excited and I think that we can go out and contend for wins and make the Playoffs."
TONY STEWART CONTINUED – ARIC HATES TALKING ABOUT MILWAUKEE, BUT WHY DID THAT STAND OUT TO YOU? "I care about it because we're friends. Even if he wasn't with me, I knew that was a significant race for him. Like I said, I think a lot of people forgot about that race and how dominant Aric was. He doesn't have to talk about it. I'll talk about it for him as long as anybody wants to, but what stood out about it was he did not have a lot of time in an XFINITY car at that time either. He qualified on the pole and, I mean, anybody that remembers watching that race he didn't have small leads, he had huge leads up to the point where he got out of the car. Granted, he was in a Gibbs car and obviously Gibbs' XFINITY program was good back then as well, but, still, for the small amount of time that he had been in that car, he was dominating that race. Milwaukee is not a high-grip track. I mean, it's a very low-grip, slick race track and to have the car control that he had and just the poise that he had going through lap traffic. I remember watching that race myself and just everything about it made me smile because he was my teammate, so I had a special focus on him because of that, and so every time he made a really good move I'm like, 'Attaboy.' He did it right. I watched a lot of details in that race that a lot of other people didn't focus on and that's why it's such a big deal to me because I know what kind of talent he has. I know what he can do if he gets in a car that is set up the way that he likes it. He's proven that in the past, so to give him that opportunity, hopefully, we can give him a car that he's comfortable with and he can go out and show his talent."
ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED – HOW MUCH MORE DOES THIS OPPORTUNITY MEAN AFTER THE INJURY YOU SUFFERED EARLIER THIS YEAR? "I think it just adds to it, really. Like I said, and I mentioned a lot about it when I came back, and I think Tony of all people can attest to this, but when you get used to doing it 38 weeks a year, and I think all of you guys especially in the media that follow our sport and travel with us, it becomes so routine and it just becomes part of your everyday life. It becomes your job. For me, I actually lost sight of the fact that I love what I do because it was just the daily grind. I do my appearances during the week. I get on an airplane on Thursday. I go to the race track. I drive a race car. I go home Sunday night to my family. I wake up Monday and do it all over again. And to have it taken away from you in an instant because of a crash, and then to have to sit on the couch and not go through your daily routine it gives you a chance to reflect and see. 'Do I like not going to the race track? Do I miss it?' And the answer is yes. I missed it terribly and I wanted that routine and that daily grind back so much more than I did pre-accident, and I think it just re-lit a fire in me to want to compete and to want to drive race cars and to realize that I have one of the coolest jobs in the world and that I couldn't be happier going to the race track on Thursday and getting ready to race."
WILL YOU DRIVE SOME XFINITY RACES WITH BIAGI-DENBESTE COMING OVER HERE? "I hope so. Can I drive an XFINITY car?"
TONY INTERJECTS. "We'll work on that. I might want to drive it at some point even. You guys act like you don't need something shocking today to write. There are actually some road course races that I might be interested in running. We've actually discussed it in-house here, but we don't have anything near worth announcing by any means, but there are some really cool races, especially Charlotte having a road course race next year. I mean, there might be some opportunities that might be a little bit fun for me to come out and dust things off a little bit."
ARIC CONTINUES – "So the answer is yes. There you go."
TONY STEWART CONTINUED – HAS THE CREW CHIEF BEEN DETERMINED? "Yeah, Billy Scott is still with the 10 car next year."
About Smithfield Foods: Smithfield Foods is a $15 billion global food company and the world's largest pork processor and hog producer. In the United States, the company is also the leader in numerous packaged meats categories with popular brands including Smithfield®, Eckrich®, Nathan's Famous®, Farmland®, Armour®, John Morrell®, Cook's®, Kretschmar®, Gwaltney®, Curly's®, Margherita®, Carando®, Healthy Ones®, Krakus®, Morliny® and Berlinki®. Smithfield Foods is committed to providing good food in a responsible way and maintains robust animal care, community involvement, employee safety, environmental and food safety and quality programs. For more information, visit www.smithfieldfoods.com.
About Stewart-Haas Racing: Stewart-Haas Racing is the title-winning NASCAR team co-owned by three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation – the largest CNC machine tool builder in North America. The organization fields four entries in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – the No. 4 Ford Fusion for Kevin Harvick, the No. 10 Ford Fusion for Danica Patrick, the No. 14 Ford Fusion for Clint Bowyer and the No. 41 Ford Fusion for Kurt Busch. The team also competes in the NASCAR XFINITY Series by fielding a full time entry – the No. 00 Ford Mustang for Cole Custer – and one part-time entry – the No. 41 Ford Mustang. Based in Kannapolis, North Carolina, Stewart-Haas Racing operates out of a 200,000-square-foot facility with nearly 370 employees. For more information, please visit us on the Web at www.StewartHaasRacing.com, on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/StewartHaasRacing, on Twitter @StewartHaasRcng and on Instagram @StewartHaasRacing.
Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.