The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Pocono (Pa.) Raceway this weekend and Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) are riding some solid momentum after leading 42 laps at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and finishing the 301-lap event in third.
With the NASCAR playoffs fast approaching, Almirola’s ability to maintain a position above the 16-driver cutline is vital. The good news is this weekend marks the Cup Series’ second trip to Pocono this season, and the young No. 10 Smithfield team is bringing a notebook to work from that was gathered during Almirola’s strong seventh-place finish there in June. “We’re going to be a contender,” Almirola said. “We’re going to be tough to beat. That’s what I keep telling everybody. We’re so new and so young. We’re 20 races into working together. We’re good, we’re not great. We have potential to be great because I don’t feel like we’ve reached our max potential just because everything is so new and we’re still learning each other, learning what I like in the racecars and all of those things.”
In Almirola’s six starts this season at tracks 2 miles or longer, he hasn’t finished outside the top-12, with the exception of the July event at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, where he was involved in an accident.
The 34-year-old will make his 13th Cup Series start at Pocono’s “Tricky Triangle.” Almirola has competed in the Cup Series at the three-turn track since 2012. His top-10 finish in June was his first there. The Smithfield driver has led two laps at the Pennsylvania track and has completed 1,495 of 1,836 possible laps.
While Almirola is having his best year ever in the Cup Series, his personal expectations continue to rise with his performance. “You would think I would be excited to finish in the top-five, but I’m not, I’m competitive and want more,” he said. “I play Candy Land with my kids and I don’t like to lose to my kids playing a game. I’m just competitive by nature and I want to win, especially for everybody who believes in me – Tony Stewart, Gene Haas, Smithfield – everybody who has just put so much into believing in me and giving me the opportunity to drive at Stewart-Haas Racing.”
Almirola’s crew chief Johnny Klausmeier is in his freshman season as the leader of a Cup Series crew. However, he has earned one career Cup Series victory, coming in June 2016 at Pocono while Klausmeier, then lead engineer on SHR’s No. 41 Ford Fusion driven by Kurt Busch, substituted for crew chief Tony Gibson.
In 20 Cup Series starts this year, Almirola has accrued an average start of 18.9 and an average finish of 12.6, with one top-five finish and eight top-10s. He’s also led 113 laps this season, already a career best. Almirola rounds out the four-driver SHR contingent at 11th in the point standings.
With summer in full swing, fans have the opportunity to celebrate the grilling season by entering Smithfield’s “Hero of the Grill” contest that Almirola and five-time world-champion barbecue pitmaster Tuffy Stone helped launch earlier this year. Fans are encouraged to nominate their favorite grill hero by visiting SmithfieldGetGrilling.com. One “Hero of the Grill” nominee will win $5,000. Plus, the first 10,000 nominees will have the chance to see their name featured on Almirola’s No. 10 Smithfield Ford at Richmond (Va.) Raceway in September.
Fans can also enter for their chance to win Smithfield’s Smoke Machine Mustang designed by team co-owner Tony Stewart with the help of drifting champion Vaughn Gittin Jr. They helped create a one-of-a-kind Ford Mustang RTR Spec 3 that will be given away to one lucky fan. Fans can register for their chance to win the suped-up Mustang and a trip to November’s Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead by visiting SmithfieldRacing.com, or by texting SMOKE to 82257.
Pocono Raceway marks the 19th points-paying event during which the Smithfield livery has adorned Almirola’s No. 10 Ford Fusion. Smithfield, a brand of Smithfield Foods, which is based approximately five hours northeast of SHR headquarters in Smithfield, Virginia, is in its seventh season with Almirola and its first 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.
Ford has earned nine wins so far this season with Almirola’s SHR teammates earning eight of the victories for the Blue Oval – six by Kevin Harvick and two by Clint Bowyer. Harvick also captured the non-points-paying All-Star Race win at Charlotte. Ford has 23 all-time series wins at Pocono and the manufacturer won one of the two events there each in 2016 and 2017.