Q&A with NASCAR Driver Aric Almirola
Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Ford Mustang in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, is now in his second year with Stewart-Haas Racing. He is currently 11th in the MENCS driver standings with nine top-10 finishes. He recently spent some time talking with Kentucky Speedway's Matt Huffmon.
Matt Huffmon: Growing up at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and your hometown of Tampa, what or who got you interested in racing?
Aric Almirola: My grandfather on my mom's side raced and was very successful around the Florida area and all over the Southeast in dirt sprint cars. I grew up watching him race and really fell in love with it. When he retired from sprint car racing, he wasn't ready to quit racing but he was ready to quit driving. He asked if I wanted to race and bought me a go-kart at eight-years-old and we took off racing.
MH: You've already seen numerous mile-and-a-half tracks this season. What separates Kentucky Speedway from the rest?
AA: One of the biggest things that makes Kentucky different from all the other tracks is just how different turns three and four are. Turns one and two have the banking and are really fast, which makes it really similar to a lot of the other mile-and-a-half's that we go to. We get to turn three and it's so flat with very little banking. It's extremely challenging to get your car to handle down there and you have to set up for turns one and two with your travels and how fast the car's going through there. When you get to three and four, there's so much left-load on the car and it's not as compressed into the track because of the left banking. It's really challenging to control the car exactly how you want in that corner.
MH: Last year you had a top-10 (8th) in the Quaker State 400, which was the best Cup finish of your career at Kentucky. Was there anything in particular that helped you put that performance together?
AA: Just the car and showing up there in my first year with Stewart-Haas Racing and having great equipment. I was able to work on my style and what I needed to work on to get better at Kentucky knowing that I had a good race car.
MH: It's been a little bit of a struggle with the Stewart-Haas team so far this season. What's the mood been like with you and your teammates, knowing that you're still searching for your first win of the season?
AA: I'd still use "struggle" lightly, but for our level of expectations we've certainly not been where we want to be. Coming off of a season like last year where we won 14 races and arguably could've won 20 or more, our expectations were high because we felt as an organization that we let races slip away. After a season like that and coming into 2019 with expectations, not going to victory lane yet halfway through the season is just an example that you can't always stay on top. Things don't always go your way. You've got to constantly learn, develop and try to find ways to get better. While we were on top, everybody else was scratching and clawing to figure out how to knock you off the top. Now we're in a situation where we're one of those teams trying everything we can to figure out how we can get the job done.
MH: There's been a lot of talk that NASCAR's new package for mile-and-a-half tracks has made the racing feel more equal. Historically, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske perform well at Kentucky Speedway, but do you feel like the changes will give an advantage to yourself or others at Stewart-Haas?
AA: I think so. I honestly don't see why not. Going there, we could certainly the speed in our car and it's just a matter of execution at this point. If we can go there, show up with a really fast car and put ourselves in the position to run up front all day, then we have to do our part. I've got to do a good job on restarts and we have to have solid execution on pit road. We've got to put a whole race together, and if we can do that, I have no doubt in my mind that we can challenge the best for a win there.