Aric Almirola Sonoma Media Availability

Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang, will be performing double duty at Sonoma Raceway as he competes in both the NASCAR Xfinity and NASCAR Cup Series events. Almirola was this week’s Ford Performance guest and answered questions from the media about his busy weekend schedule.


ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford MustangHOW MUCH OF A BENEFIT IS IT TO RUN THE NXS RACE AT SONOMA? “I don’t know that it’s super beneficial, to be honest. I just love that road course. Of all the road courses that we run, it’s my favorite. I run the best there, so having the opportunity to to run an Xfinity car there, something that is new for that series, I just thought that it would be a great opportunity and something for me to go and do, and I think it is slightly helpful just to get some more reps at the road courses because with only 20 minutes of practice, you don’t get a lot of laps in the Cup car. So just being able to pick up little things here and there on the racetrack maybe helps a little bit, but the cars are so different nowadays with the brakes, the way the cars drive, the transmission, all those things that a lot of it doesn’t really correlate at all.”


DID BLANEY’S WIN AT CHARLOTTE HELP PROVIDE A GOOD DIRECTION FOR YOU GUYS AS A TEAM? “I think that we have potential in our cars. Blaney at Charlotte showed that. I still think that our cars are really aero sensitive in traffic compared to the other manufacturers. Blaney did a great job of executing for all 600 miles and never really lost his track position, so when you look at that I think that’s a key component of it. I feel like our cars have the capability and the potential to go fast, but one of the things we’re continuing to work on is just making our cars raceable. It seems like we don’t quite have that figured out as well as the other manufacturers as far as being able to race in traffic. I know that all the cars are bad in traffic, but it seems like we tend to be a little bit worse in traffic than our competition, so that’s one of the things we’re continuing to strive to get better at is making our cars better in dirty air. But we certainly know that we have potential to make our race cars go fast. We’ve got to execute and I feel like one last thing to add to that is I feel like as a manufacturer if you talk to all the Ford drivers I feel like our window is pretty small. If we hit it, we hit it. And if you’re slightly off, you’re really off. Where it does seem like the competition has a little bit bigger of a window to be closer to hitting the setup.”


IS THERE ANYTHING YOU NOTICE FROM COTA WITHOUT CAUTIONS AT THE STAGE BREAKS AND HOW IT WILL BE DIFFERENT THIS WEEKEND? “I think at COTA it made the strategy a little bit more straightforward, and now I think it’s gonna be the same at Sonoma when you look at the race and the strategy play for Sonoma. It makes the race relatively straightforward with where you’re gonna pit. There’s a couple lap window here or there on what you’re gonna do for strategy, so it really takes away, in my opinion, from the strategy aspect of it. Last year at Sonoma was a perfect example. We went there and we had a really good car, but we chose to score as many stage points as we could with the position that we were in in points going to Sonoma, and so we finished fifth in stage one and finished second in stage two because we elected to stay out on the racetrack and score stage points. After the stage breaks, we had to come back through the field on newer tires compared to the other guys that pitted a couple laps before the end of the stage, so we constantly battled from poor track position driving through the field and then staying out at the stages to score points, where now there’s not that opportunity so it doesn’t really jumble up or mix the field up as much. It’s more about qualifying well and then just making sure that you pit when you’re supposed to pit.”


ANY TIMETABLE ON WHEN YOU HAVE TO MAKE A DECISION ON NEXT YEAR OR IS TO JUST SLOW AND FLUID? “I think it’s still very fluid. I don’t have any timetable. By this time last year what I thought was going to happen ended up not happening, so I think, for me, it’s just get up every morning and continue to work hard at being the best race car driver I can be and we’ll see where things shake out.”


YOU’VE WON A POLE AT NASHVILLE IN THE PAST WHAT ABOUT THIS SEASON? “I do think we learned some things last year at Nashville, where we missed the setup and where we felt like we were off, so I do look forward to going back there. I really enjoy that racetrack. It’s a track that I liked a lot when I ran trucks and Xfinity races there and then first time there in a Cup car qualified on the pole, ran top five, so it’s a place that I really enjoy running at and I hope that we learn from some of the things we felt like we did wrong last year with this new car that will make us better.”


WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU ARE AS A TEAM ON THE ROAD COURSE AND WHERE ARE YOU AS A DRIVER? “I can grade myself first and say that I am average at-best as a road racer at most road courses. At Sonoma, I’m a B-plus. I would say Sonoma is hands down my best road course and I feel like that’s because it’s not really one of those racetracks that you can attack because the surface and the way that the tires wear out, it’s more of a rhythm racetrack and it’s kind of flowy and you can’t really attack the racetrack or you’ll abuse your tires and really pay a huge penalty after five, six laps on tires. I do better at that. Even short track racing – Richmond, Loudon – those places like that, that you have to take care of your stuff I tend to do much better at the places that you have to be overly aggressive and really attack the racetrack and attack the braking zones are not my best places. So, road course racing, those racetracks you really have to attack the braking zones and do all those things I tend to not be as good at, and I feel like as an organization we have a lot of room for improvement to make our road course stuff better. I think that we have been average at best as an organization with this Next Gen car at most road courses, not all of them, but at most of them we have struggled to make our car get in the braking zones as hard as the competition. We’ve struggled to get the forward drive off of the corners to compete, so I think there’s a lot of things that we can do better, for sure.”


ANY IDEA WHERE CHICAGO WILL FALL ON THAT? WILL YOU HAVE TO BE SUPER AGGRESSIVE THERE? “Yeah, I think Chicago is certainly gonna be a racetrack that you’re gonna have to be very aggressive. The surface is going to be very interesting, where they’ve repaved or where they’ve not repaved. What we’ve learned so far in the simulator is that it’s pretty low grip, what we think, and it’s pretty rough. And there are a lot of tight, blind corners. You’re gonna have to be really aggressive in the braking zones, get in the corners deep but still make the corner, and there’s a huge penalty at Chicago compared to all the other road courses that we go to if you don’t make the corner, so I think you’re not only gonna have to be aggressive, but you’re gonna have to be conscious of how aggressive you are because the penalty for missing the corner at Chicago is gonna be far greater than missing the corner at most road courses. At most road courses if you overshoot the corner, you run off into the grass or the gravel a little bit. At Chicago, you’re gonna crash. You’re gonna hit a wall.”


WHICH SONOMA LAYOUT DO YOU LIKE BEST? “I love the chute. The carousel was cool to do it, for me, once just so I could say I had that experience to run it like they used to run it in the old days when Ricky Rudd and Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace and those guys would duke it out there. For me, I absolutely love the chute and I love that it gives you that opportunity to make some passes getting into turn seven if you get off of turn four well, and the carousel just never really presented that opportunity with the cars the way they are nowadays versus the old days. Our cars are so much more aero sensitive, so going through the carousel was so tough to run behind somebody that you would give up too much of a gap off the carousel to whoever you were racing with that you didn’t really have that opportunity to make a pass into turn seven and out-brake them, where now with the turn four, hopping that curb and going over the other side to the other curb, there’s a lot of opportunity to maintain your position relative to the car in front of you and then have an opportunity to out-brake them getting into turn seven, so I love the short chute.”


IS THE PLAN TWO MORE YEARS FULL-TIME AND THEN SEE WHAT HAPPENS? “The plan is fluid. For me, it’s still about making sure that I’m having fun and enjoying driving the race car and making sure that I can be a husband and a father and all those things, and not sacrifice that. I love what I do. I love my job. I love my career, but at the end of the day chasing a little bit more money and more trophies and those things is not what it’s about for me, so as much as I love my job and all those things, I want to make sure that I’m doing the right thing by my family as well, so those are conversations that I’ll continue to have internally here and I’ll let you guys know when you guys need to know.”


DO YOU THINK ABOUT HOW THINGS HAVE GONE DURING YOUR TIME AT SHR AND HOW CHALLENGING IT’S BEEN THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS? “No, certainly not what I expected. I expected more years like the first year, to be honest. I showed up here in 2018 and we not only won a race, but I was in contention to win probably five or six races throughout that year and consistently ran in the top 10, top 5, was a team that on any given weekend we showed up to a racetrack felt like we could win and that has certainly not been the case the last couple of years. It’s disappointing, for sure, but a lot of this is part of the sport, too. Our sport is very cyclical. There are some teams that stay on top most of the time, but even the best teams – you can look at Hendrick Motorsports and there was a couple year period there where they struggled. You’ve seen it happen with other race teams. You’ve seen Roush go from being one of the most dominant teams in the garage area to not. Penske is pretty steady Eddy, but even they’ve had years where they’ve been off as well, and, for us, it’s been that way. We had a great year in 2018, not only for me personally but organizationally with winning a lot of races. Then we went into 2019 and we weren’t quite as good as 2018 as an organization; 2020 we were still just OK, but we weren’t as dominant and as good as we had been in the past years, so I feel like, for me, I totally anticipated coming over here and having success and building on that success to having an opportunity to go and be a champion, so, yeah, that hasn’t come to fruition and I’m certainly disappointed about it, but, at the end of the day, that doesn’t define me as a human being. As a race car driver I always want more and want to be a champion, want to win multiple races in a year and I have all of those lofty goals, but sometimes things don’t always go the way you want them to.”


IS THERE A LITTLE BIT OF EMBRACING THE CHALLENGE AND FIGHTING TO GET WHAT YOU WANT? “Absolutely. Life is not easy. Everybody has good days and bad days. Everybody has good years and bad years. There are seasons to life. There are seasons to a career and so, for me, it doesn’t water down the fact that I’m still racing at the highest level of stock car auto racing, something that I dreamed about as a kid. I’m getting to live out my childhood dream driving a NASCAR Cup Series car against 39 of the other best race car drivers in the world that drive stock cars, so I am very appreciative and very grateful of what I get to do. Do I want more wins and championships and all those things? Absolutely. I’m a competitive person, but at the end of the day you sit there and you look at Richard Petty, who is the King of our sport. I’ve gotten the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Richard and he doesn’t ever sit down at Thanksgiving with all 200 of his trophies, ever. He sits down at Thanksgiving with his family and he sits down to share a meal with people he cares about. All the time I’ve ever gotten to spend with him and talk about things outside of racing and talking about life, he’s been a huge impact on me just being able to recognize and realize that you don’t always have to chase the success because it doesn’t really define who you are once you stop driving a race car. What defines who you are is how you treat other people and how you are with the people you love, so, yeah, I think as a competitive person I want to win everything, but the reality is that’s not the case.”


HOW REWARDING IS IT TO SPEND TIME WITH YOUR SON AND HAVE THOSE MOMENTS LIKE WHEN HE WON HIS LITTLE LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP LAST WEEK? “I love it. I absolutely love it. Those are the moments for me at this point in life that I absolutely cherish those moments. I can honestly tell you that I was as happy and as excited that he won his baseball championship with his team as I’ve been winning a Cup race. I mean, literally, and he won a little league game, like a little league championship. In the grand scheme of things it’s not that big of a deal, but what was a big deal was just to see him cherish that moment, to see him enjoy the success of the practice and the hard work and all of the lessons and hitting lessons and all the things. To see him reap the benefit is awesome and I’m so glad that I was there to share that with him and when the game was over to see him come and jump up into my arms and give me a big hug, it was awesome. I loved every minute of it. I grew up playing baseball and team sports. I played basketball and I love playing team sports. I love the fact that Alex is involved in team sports and it’s fun to share moments like that with my kids. It’s the same for Abby. She had the lead role in her theater show this year. She’d been working for the last four years to transition from being just a part of the cast, being in what they call the ensemble, to getting a lead role. So, she had a lead role and she was Simba in Lion King and to watch her perform on stage and watch her take ownership and watch all the practice that she puts in and the training, the singing lessons and all the stuff, and then to see her go and perform on stage and to have the success that she has and to share that with her, as a dad it just makes me so proud. I love it. I absolutely love it.”


HAS ALEX SHOWN ANY INTEREST IN RACING? “Very little and I’m totally good with that.”


IT SEEMS THE KIDS WHO ARE RACING THESE DAYS HAVE A LOT OF PRESSURE ALREADY. “For me, we did a little bit of it. We raced for a year with Alex and I didn’t love it. I showed up at the racetrack and was head down working on his go-kart to figure out how to make it go as fast as it could. I was constantly critiquing him and criticizing him on what he needed to do better. There was what I felt to be an immense amount of pressure on him, for sure, and to go out and perform. You show up at a go-kart track and you’re racing against a lot of other kids that their dads are “normal dads”. They work normal jobs and his dad is a race car driver, so naturally he should be good. I think the amount of pressure that it puts on those kids, and some kids can handle it and some kids can’t, but I see what Keelen is doing. I see what Brexton is doing. I see what Owen Larson is doing and all those kids, and, man, I just remember what it was like when I was eight, nine, 10 years old and I was starting out go-kart racing. I went purely as a hobbyist. We went and had fun and, yeah, we had success and I ran really good and won state championships and national championships, but at the end of the day we rode up and down the road as a family in a dually and a trailer and it was just fun. There was no real pressure. If we didn’t win, I didn’t have to answer to sponsors or social media or any of that stuff that these kids nowadays have to. They have a fan following at 10 years old or younger and they have to come up with excuses on weekends that they run bad. Like for a nine year old I just feel like that’s totally unfair. They’re selling merchandise and doing all those things, which I think is awesome. It gives these kids wonderful opportunities to have such a head start on building a career, and I know that things nowadays are going younger and younger, and so by all means that is arguably the best way to groom them to be professional race car drivers, but I just remember for me at 10 years old I was not thinking about being groomed as a professional race car driver. I was just doing it because I loved it and it was way more fun to go 60 miles an hour in a go-kart than it was to wait at shortstop for a ground ball to come my way. All the while, I still loved baseball and I played baseball all the way to high school.”


ARE YOU AN ASSISTANT BASEBALL COACH? “I am an assistant coach. I refuse to be the head coach, but I totally enjoy helping and teaching the kids the fundamentals of baseball.”


WHERE IS THE TROPHY ALEX WON? “It went in his room on his dresser – front and center.”


WITH ONLY 20 MINUTES OF PRACTICE, HOW TOUGH IS IT TO GET THE DRIVER-CREW CHIEF RELATIONSHIP ESTABLISHED? “It is challenging, no doubt about it. It is challenging because in the old days you’d show up, you’d practice on Friday. You’d talk about it. You’d qualify Friday evening. After qualifying was over you’d come up with a game plan with your crew chief for what you were gonna do to the car for Saturday morning and typically Saturday morning was the opportunity to experiment and try a few things here and there. Then you talked about it after Saturday morning’s practice, and then you would get with your crew chief and your engineers and you’d put in whatever you thought was going to be the best for happy hour, and then you’d run two runs in happy hour, two long runs in happy hour, and when happy hour was over you’d download some more about it and you’d come up with a game plan for the race. So there was a lot of opportunity throughout the course of a weekend to work with your crew chief on the feel that you were looking for in the race car and that is gone. You show up now and kind of what you have is what you’ve got. You can make a few minor adjustments with the heights of the car and the wedge, some sway bar settings, some shocks and air-pressures. That’s it. That’s all you can change, so I think that communication and that relationship is extremely important, but at the end of the day what’s the most important is just having a fast race car. From a driver’s standpoint, you certainly want to have a great relationship with your crew chief, but regardless of the relationship you have with your crew chief, if your crew chief and your engineer and your organization – from the aero department to the vehicle dynamics group to everybody is supplying you with the fastest race car, you’re gonna go fast. That’s really it, so I think that’s ultimately the most important thing is making sure that the organization, the crew chiefs and the engineers are all on the same page and putting the best race car on the racetrack, and then at that point it’s up to the driver and crew chief to fine-tune it.”


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