Smithfield Foods returns as primary sponsor of the No. 43 Ford as Aric Almirola and his Richard Petty Motorsports team prepare to go road-course racing at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. And the Petty blue-and-black Smithfield paint scheme that hits the 2.45-mile road course will be no ordinary design.
The No. 43 scheme for Sunday's Finger Lakes 355 at The Glen was created by long-time Petty fan and graphic designer Kevin Gates. Gates sent a sketch to Smithfield earlier this season on a whim and, much to his surprise and delight, learned the race team's partner was going to update its scheme to reflect his design. The Gates-designed scheme also ran at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the All-Star race in May.
The race on the 2.45-mile, seven-turn course will be the second road race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Almirola has one previous Sprint Cup start at Watkins Glen - a 35th-place finish in 2008. He also has an eighth-place finish at the course in the Nationwide Series (2011).
Away from the race course, Smithfield will be leaving its mark in the Watkins Glen community before the race even starts. As part of its nationwide Feeding the Hungry initiative, the company will be making a donation of 30,000 pounds of food on Friday to The Food Bank of the Southern Tier 388. The food donation will take place at the Tops Market at 504 ½ Franklin St. in Watkins Glen. Representatives of Richard Petty Motorsports will be on hand for the "Ham Brigade," which begins Friday at 10:30 a.m. ET.
Comments from Smithfield Ford Fusion Driver Aric Almirola:
"It's also cool to be running a paint scheme that a fan designed. The devotion of Petty fans is unbelievable and it was awesome of Smithfield to make Kevin's dream come true. Watkins Glen is a cool track - I've raced it a couple times before - and we're going to work hard to get that blue-and-black Smithfield scheme running up front."
Comments from Crew Chief Mike Ford on Watkins Glen:
"Watkins Glen is a lot faster than Sonoma, the other road course we race on, so you don't have the benefit of taking the same car or set-up or relying on the same notes. It's a different animal. But Aric has raced this course before, both in Cup and Nationwide, so he brings some experience and he'll know what to expect.
"Brakes are important at Watkins Glen because you're mixing high speeds with sharp turns, so we need to take care of the brakes. Fuel mileage always comes into play, too, so we have to race smart and give ourselves an opportunity to be in good position at the end."