Notes of Interest
● NASCAR returns to the track this weekend to unofficially kick off the 2023 season with the second running of the Busch Light Clash at the iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The weekend’s 150-lap Feature race will showcase 27 world-class drivers battling on a temporary, quarter-mile, paved oval, built on top of the playing field that is home to the University of Southern California Trojans football team. It makes for one of the most unique sporting events in America. Last year’s inaugural event proved to be a success with 4.3 million viewers tuning in to the live broadcast on FOX. That rating was 168 percent higher than the previous year’s Busch Light Clash held at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and broadcast on FS1, and it was the best rating since 2016 for The Clash, when it was broadcast on FOX. On Twitter, NASCAR was the No. 1 trending topic in the United States during the race, besting the NFL’s Pro Bowl, which was held the same day.
● Saturday, NASCAR Cup Series competitors will take to the track for practice prior to single-car qualifying to determine the starting order for Sunday’s four, 25-lap heat races, which will consist of 10 cars each. Below is a breakdown of how the heat races will be filled out:
● Busch Light Clash History: In Aric Almirola’s seven previous Clash appearances, he has finished in the top-10 three times with a best finish of sixth. In his heat race during last year’s inaugural Clash, Almirola was involved in an accident not of his doing that eliminated his chance to race in the Feature.
● The quarter-mile oval at the L.A. Coliseum is the shortest of short tracks. Almirola thrives at shorter flat tracks with his most recent NASCAR Cup Series win coming on the 1.058-mile oval at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
● Appearances: Almirola will make an appearance on Sunday at 11:45 a.m. local time at the NASCAR Fan Fest for a Q&A session alongside his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammates.
● Almirola’s career: In 424 NASCAR Cup Series starts, Almirola has earned three wins, 28 top-five finishes, 91 top-10s, four poles, and has led 974 laps.
● 2022 Recap: Almirola earned one pole, two top-five finishes, seven top-10s and led 81 laps. He started the season as the only NASCAR Cup Series driver with three consecutive top-10 finishes – fifth in the season-opening Daytona 500, sixth at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, and sixth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He earned his fourth Cup Series pole at the Sept, 17 race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
● Smithfield Foods rejoins Almirola and the No. 10 Ford team as the anchor sponsor for the 2023 NASCAR season. Smithfield has been a sponsor of Almirola’s for the entirety of his fulltime NASCAR Cup Series career – making it one of the longest-lasting partnerships in NASCAR.
● Back for More: Last year, Almirola announced that he would step down from fulltime racing following the 2022 season.Through the course of the year, he discovered a new balance between his passion for racing and dedication to his family. His wife Janice, and kids Alex and Abby, joined him on most race weekends, oftentimes enjoying once-in-a-lifetime experiences together as they traveled the country. His rapport with crew chief Drew Blickensderfer flourished, and the intense pressure he had put on himself was replaced with the joy of simply being present. Not only did Almirola see the sport from a new perspective, so did anchor partner Smithfield Foods, who broached the subject of Almirola returning to fulltime racing in 2023. On Aug. 26, Almirola, SHR and Smithfield Foods announced his return with a multiyear agreement and the Smithfield’s largest allotment of races since joining the team in 2018.
● Beyond the 10 YouTube Series: In 2023, Almirola will continue to share his life beyond the No. 10 Smithfield Ford with season five of his award-winning YouTube series. Fans and media can subscribe on YouTube to see Almirola’s personality on and off the track. Episodes have already featured life as a dad, a husband and an athlete, and it gives fans a unique perspective on what goes on in the life of a professional NASCAR driver. Fans can also follow Almirola’s social media channels: @Aric_Almirola on Twitter and Instagram, and @AricAlmirola on Facebook.
Aric Almirola, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What is your mentality for 2023?
“My mentality for 2023 is really to be better this year than I’ve ever been before, each and every day. For me, as I look throughout my career, I have had a lot of inconsistencies. And once I got to Stewart-Haas Racing, I really honed in on being a lot more consistent and running up front, but last year was not the case. I want to consistently be up front and be the best that I can be. Hopefully we can get our cars faster, but for me personally, it’s just about being the best me every single week.”
What are your thoughts on racing at the L.A. Coliseum again?
“I think it’s incredible what NASCAR is doing to grow our sport. I remember the energy being so electric in that stadium last year. When we walked down for driver intros, the cheering was so loud it reminded me of a Martinsville playoff race. There was a huge section of college students, too, so it was great to see that younger crowd excited about our sport. L.A. is a huge market, too, and we’re generating a ton of buzz before the Daytona 500. This race is like a teaser for our Super Bowl to kick off the year. I mean, what a month for sports. You have The Clash, then the Super Bowl, then the Daytona 500 all in three weeks. You can’t beat that.”
What was the racing like last year, and what do you expect this year?
“There were just so many unknowns last year. There really wasn’t an expectation because we had a brand new car on a brand new track that no one had ever raced before. You saw a lot of mechanical issues take cars out last year, so I think you’re going to see different racing just because of the experience we now have with the car and the track. Hopefully we’ll see cleaner racing so we have a shot at it this year.”
As an organization, how do you feel you are prepared for the 2023 season?
“It’s always hard in the offseason to predict what the season is going to give you. You never really know. Even though you’re working to get better, so is every other race team. You never know really how you stack up until the beginning part of the season gets going, and then you find out if you’re on top or if you’re playing catch-up. Last year, we found ourselves playing catch-up. We certainly didn’t start out the year like we wanted to and we worked really hard throughout the season playing catch-up. Whereas this year, at least we have some notes and some benchmarks going into the season to know, OK, well, we’re certainly better in this area than we were last year. So aerodynamics, car setups, engineering, and even drivers being able to go back and look at data and comparing ourselves to the guys who beat us, and being able to make those changes and those tweaks so that when we get ready for this season, we feel like we’re where we need to be.”
How was your offseason, and are you ready for the season?
“Every year in November after that championship race, we’re all ready to finally get a break. Thirty-eight weeks with one off weekend wears on you, but every year January comes around and I feel reinvigorated and ready to go. Maybe that means we do our offseason right. We took a few trips. I took Alex to see Lambeau Field and watch the Packers play. We took Abby to New York to watch the Rockettes before her theatre performance back home. Then we went to Utah as a family for a ski trip. It was a fun and relaxing offseason, but I’m ready to get back to it.”
Last year, you started the season planning to retire, but plans changed. Walk us through getting to the 2023 season for you.
“I was fully committed to being done. I did not envision a 2023 fulltime season. I went through the first half of last year and was soaking it all in, taking it one race at a time and enjoying what I thought to be my last season. As we got closer to summer, the race team asked if I had interest in staying, Smithfield asked if I had interest in returning, and a lot of it was hinging on whether or not I would continue racing. With that, I felt humbled that the race team and sponsor wanted me to come back because, all of your career, you’re clawing and grinding to get a ride and a sponsor. It felt really nice to have that feeling of being wanted. On top of that, our lives changed. I was choosing to retire because I didn’t want to keep chasing my dream at the expense of my kids searching out for what their dream was. We have found such a wonderful balance with our family now, me being the husband I want to be, the dad I want to be, and their activities changed. We were able to find Alex a baseball league that just so happened to play when I was home, and I was able to spend that time as the assistant coach on his team. Abby is really into theatre and her performances happened to be on weeknights, as well. All the stars aligned and I have to really thank God for providing for us and aligning all of the stars to find balance.”
How much did traveling with your family and experiencing things most families don’t get to on the road impact your decision?
“Yeah, that was one thing that really impacted our decision. They were able to come to 26 races. The experience they get to have traveling the country is remarkable. Before the pandemic, the schedules didn’t really work as well. We used to leave on Thursdays and that didn’t really work with school and their activities, but now we leave on Friday evening and we’re done by 1 or 2 o’clock and we really took advantage of that last year as a family. In the past, I would fly in, get to the racetrack, and be completely focused because the schedule demanded that of me. We would have a Friday-morning practice and qualifying, then Saturday we would have another hour or two of practice, then Sunday was the race, and it was an exhausting weekend that didn’t leave room to enjoy with your family. Now with this new schedule, it has allowed me to both stay extremely focused for the race and make memories with my family.”