Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) head to Dover (Del.) International Speedway this weekend for the first race in the Round of 12 in this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. The Smithfield team looks for a much calmer weekend after a dramatic but successful end to the Round of 16 Sunday on the “roval” at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
It was a nail-biting final three laps on the Charlotte roval Sunday with every position turning out to be crucial for the No. 10 team’s ability to advance on to the Round of 12. Almirola’s 19th-place finish put him in a three-way tie with Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson, and his solid finishes in the previous two Round of 16 races Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Richmond (Va.) Raceway were enough to break the tie and vault him into the next playoff round.
“It’s crazy, I think back to Las Vegas and Stage 1 with two laps to go and I passed Ryan Newman for 10th and got one point,” Almirola said. “I think about Richmond with a couple of laps to go, the No. 3 car had run me down and I was doing everything I could to keep him behind me to run fifth, and I was able to stay in front of him. That one point made a difference. Then you think about the race at the roval and all of those cars I had to pass in the race. For most of the race we were good. Johnny (Klausmeier) kept telling me we’re good, we’re plus 18 (points), to save fuel, we’re plus 15. He was, like, just stay on the track, don’t make mistakes, don’t wreck, we’re good. Then we had that pileup on that restart late in the race and I get stopped, and then get hit from behind and pushed into the accident. I was, like, ‘Really? Come on.’ So we had to come down pit road and fix the car, again, and had to restart at the tail of the field. Johnny told me coming to the green that we needed six or seven spots and I was, like, ‘Here we go, we’re either going to make it or we’re not.’”
Fortunately, the Monster Mile at Dover is one of Almirola’s favorite tracks on the Cup Series circuit. In this year’s May race there, the Tampa native scored an 11th-place finish after running in the top-10. In Almirola’s last 10 starts at tracks a mile or less in length, he has one top-five and four top-10s and he’s led three laps. Almirola has earned an average starting position of 14.9 and an average finish of 14.3. Overall at Dover’s concrete mile oval, the Smithfield driver has made 12 starts in the Cup Series and has completed 98.7 percent of all possible laps. Almirola has collected two top-five and three top-three results there.
Almirola opens the Round of 12 11th in the standings with 3,001 points, one ahead of 12th. It’s the furthest Almirola has ever advanced in the playoffs during his seven-year Cup Series career. All four SHR entries have advanced to the Round of 12 this season, making up 33.3 percent of the remaining playoff field.
With the season winding down, fans can still 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.
Dover marks the 27th 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.
Through the first 29 races this season, Almirola has an average start of 17.4 and an average finish of 13.9 with two top-five finishes and 12 top-10s. He’s also led 116 laps this season, already a career best.