Almirola Wins Talladega Pole as Ford Sweeps Top 3 Spots

Ford Qualifying Results:

1st – Aric Almirola

2nd – Joey Logano

3rd – Chase Briscoe

5th – Brad Keselowski

6th – Riley Herbst

7th – Austin Cindric

10th – Ryan Blaney

11th – Kevin Harvick

17th – Todd Gilliland

18th – Michael McDowell

19th – Ryan Preece

21st – Harrison Burton

24th – Chris Buescher

27th – JJ Yeley

29th – Brennan Poole




ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang – “It feels good to show up to Talladega with speed in our cars. I knew coming here we were gonna have an opportunity to qualify well and this would be a great opportunity for us to win a race, so proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing for continuing to fight and work their tails off to bring fast race cars to the racetrack. It would be so easy at this point in the season with where we’re at to just bring a car to the track and check the box, but that’s not who we are. The men and women at our organization continue to wake up every day, go into the shop figuring out how to make our race cars go fast and today is proof of that. I’m proud of the effort. We had a really good car at Daytona. We qualified well. I think we qualified second and just barely missed the pole and ran up front all night and finished third, so similar car, similar setup, all those things, so certainly expected to be fast when we got here.”


WHAT HAS BEEN THE KEY TO SHR’S IMPROVED PERFORMANCE THE LAST COUPLE OF MONTHS? “It’s good that everybody else notices it because internally I feel like we notice it and they’re continuing to be motivated by seeing things start to go in the right direction, so that’s nice. From my standpoint, to show up to the racetrack with a little bit more speed and be a little bit more competitive is encouraging, but it starts at the shop and it really has gotten to a point to where we were at a pretty low spot, and everybody was searching. Every team, every crew chief, every engineer is searching like, ‘Oh my God, we’re off. What can we do to find speed. Let’s try this setup. Let’s do this to the car. Let’s do that to the car.’ So you end up with everybody kind of going off on these islands trying to figure out what we need to do to put speed in our race cars and over the last couple of months I feel like we’ve come back together because that hasn’t worked and there’s been a lot more unity and collaboration internally inside of our organization, bringing all the smart people together talking about what we need to do and kind of going at it more collectively and that’s been a turning point. I feel like that’s been beneficial.”


THIS IS YOUR SIXTH CAREER POLE. HOW BIG OF A DEAL IS IT FOR A DRIVER TO SEE THAT KIND OF A STAT? “I think it’s something you care about probably when you get older, I guess – when you look back and tell your grandkids you were somebody. You’re like, ‘Look here. Here are my stats,’ I guess. But, for me in my spot with where I’m at in my life and my career I chalk it up as mission accomplished. We show up at the racetrack every week and your goal is to be fastest in practice and then after that it’s to be fastest in qualifying and then after that it’s to win the race and if you don’t achieve any of those things it’s mission not accomplished. I am of course appreciative and get excited, but I get more excited for the team than I do for my stat total. It’s rewarding for Drew and all the guys on my team. It’s rewarding for the men and women back at the shop. It is a morale boost when you show up and you have a fast race car and you qualify on the pole.”


WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT DREW AND HIS ABILITY TO BRING FAST CARS TO THE TRACK? “Drew has been around the sport for a long time and Drew is very savvy. He’s smart and he’s intelligent about a lot of things, but when it comes to prepping race cars and getting race cars ready to go to the racetrack Drew is extremely detail-oriented. I worked with Drew when I was at Petty’s and I was so excited when we had the opportunity to get him to come over to Stewart-Haas Racing because of that. I knew that Drew was a guy that would come in and take fast race cars and make them faster. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years that he’s been there as an organization we’ve been off so it’s been challenging for him to show how good he is and how capable he is as a crew chief, but I think extremely highly of Drew Blickensderfer. He’s very talented and this shows it because you come to a racetrack like this where it’s very paired up and all the little details matter. You look at qualifying and you look at how tight it is, it’s separated by thousandths of a second, which means that the details matter that much more and so that just points to Drew and his leadership and how good he is at getting the most out of our race cars.”


DOES THIS IMPROVEMENT IMPACT ANY DECISION YOU MIGHT HAVE FOR NEXT YEAR? “I don’t have a decision or at least not one that I can tell you. I think, for me, I’m just enjoying it. Claire asked me a minute ago if looking back on it now if I feel like I made the right decision when I came back for this year and I can easily answer that as yes. Performance-wise on the racetrack, no, it hasn’t been the year that I hoped for when I signed up to come back. That’s no secret, but I have met a handful of people that have really impacted my life this year that I would have never met had I not decided to come back. My family and I have gotten to experience some really, really amazing things this year and I think personally I feel like the Good Lord led me to have this opportunity and it was very apparent that the door was wide open and all I had to do was step through, and so as I sit here today I’m wrestling with that same thing. For me, I’ve kind of sort of put my career on the altar because for most of my career I held on so tightly I was like, ‘Man, I just need one more contract or next year’s contract,’ and this year I’ve just been so free with it and held it so loosely and it’s been mind blowing the conversations that I’ve had in the last three to four months and just all the things that are happening and going on around me, so it’s been humbling and I just continue to pray through it and talk with my wife, talk with my kids and we’ll see.”



BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 6 Ford Mustang — WHAT SORT OF EXPERIENCE HAVE YOU HAD WITH THE NETFLIX CAMERA CREW? “I haven’t been involved at this time, but that’s always subject to change. None would be my answer right now. I’ve heard others that have been a part of it and I think it sounds like a good deal for the sport, but I haven’t personally been involved with it yet.”


HOW COULD THAT HELP NASCAR? “What does the portrayal of our sport need to be to attract the masses. I wish I would have known about that one before I came here, I would have written something down. I think for our sport I always go back to the Ken Squier days because I always loved the way that he talked about the sport, where we’d talk about common men doing uncommon things and living on the edge of safety and all these other things. I always thought it was so compelling and when I would go back as a kid and rewatch the old CBS races with him on I was just so thoroughly entertained by that mentality. One of the things I always find so interesting about our sport is that we work so hard for safety and that’s important. We should always work towards it, but we almost to some degree tell the story too much because it is still pretty dangerous and it’s like we’re trying to convince ourselves that it’s safe and when you come here, weekends like this and some other things, you see the big wrecks and it’s like we’re trying to make ourselves feel better about it by telling the safety story, but on some side of it it’s kind of like, ‘Well, maybe we shouldn’t talk so much about it.’ I think we almost water it down for our fans and they don’t understand just how dangerous it still really is to be a race car driver and to race cars or trucks or whatever it might be for a living. That’s a really long-winded way of saying I love the way this sport used to be covered back in the Ken Squier days and if we can tell that story, I think it would resonate. That would be my personal preference.”


ARE YOU STILL INVOLVED WITH ANY BIRMINGHAM OR ALABAMA CAUSES? “I’ve got to do some great things in this area, especially with servicemen and servicewomen and that’s always been very rewarding to me. I really love coming here. I feel, for whatever reason, just a really strong bond. I have a lot of fans in this area and I’m sure some of that is from winning races here, but I think I just enjoy being here and enjoy being around the people here and seeing them let loose and enjoy the race weekend. It’s always so interesting coming here because until this year I feel like every time you come here there’s no cell phone service or any of those creature comforts and it kind of feels like going back in time. I’m almost glad that my phone doesn’t work sometimes. It’s just a fun place for me to come here. We’ve got some great fans and we get to do some great things for charities throughout the years and meet some people and it’s fun for me because I’m 14 years now into the Cup Series and it in some ways has gone really slow and in some ways gone really fast, and one of the things that makes it still fun and still rewarding is coming and seeing people like, ‘Oh, I saw this person eight years ago and haven’t seen them since.’ I just went and did a thing in the campground and it was like, ‘Oh, I was here for your first win in ‘09’ and to hear them tell the stories that makes it really special to be a veteran in this sport, but it certainly doesn’t change the hunger that I have.”


WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT YOUR FIRST WIN HERE? “I guess now I look back and I couldn’t have pinpointed it then, but I can pinpoint it better now – I remember feeling like I had a big case of Imposter Syndrome – like I’m not supposed to be here. It felt very surreal and I imagine a lot of people the first time they win a Cup race probably feel that way to some degree, and then just kind of riding this high of maybe I will make it in this sport because you never know, especially early in your career, if you’re going to have any staying power. It especially hits home watching the truck races here. Somebody posted a stat online about how none of the last five winners from the truck race were even in the race today. That kind of personifies the fear that I think you have as a race car driver, especially in your early years. In the Cup Series when you haven’t won a race and you haven’t had any of that success and you’re stuck thinking to yourself something of the effect that this could all disappear tomorrow. When you win a Cup race that feeling doesn’t go away, but you just feel like a little more comfortable in your own skin and it’s a super unique feeling of confidence and staying power. I don’t really know how to explain it, but I’ll never forget that. That’s probably the strongest memory and thought that I have of it.”


YOU ARE THE ONLY DRIVER WITH TOP 10 FINISHES IN THE FOUR PLAYOFF RACES. HOW CAN THAT CONTINUE TO KEEP YOU GOING? “I guess it depends on if you have stage points or not. If you put up good stage points, I think that will take you all the way to Phoenix. I feel like it’s gonna take in this round 110 points and probably the next round it’s probably gonna take 125-130 points. Top 10s with stage points will get you there in the races, but you also know inevitably that you’re not gonna be able to continue to top 10 your way through it. You’re gonna have to actually put up wins and all those other things, top 5s, so I know that that’s coming to – that we need to execute those pieces, but when you’re not in a spot to win I think it’s important to get those points and then it’s important to have solid days, especially in these early rounds. I think that’s kind of a good ethos for our team to operate under.”


IS YOUR CONFIDENCE GROWING WITH EVERY RACE OF HOW FAR YOUR TEAM CAN GO VERSUS WHAT THE EXPECTATIONS WERE? “It’s funny because now that I’m wearing the team owner hat I sit in different meetings than I used to – some good ones to with competition, don’t get me wrong – but I was sitting in a financial meeting going over budgeting, which is everyone’s favorite topic, and we got to talking about how in the company budget we had 14th and 16th and now after making it through the Round of 12 and getting to the Round of 8 the budget projections change. Those are moments that I think hit home where you’re like, ‘Yeah, this is better than we thought. This is better than what we thought might happen.’ We’re on a good path, but you try not to take anything for granted. I think we could go out and put up goose eggs this weekend and if you take your eye off the ball in this sport for one second that’s exactly what’s gonna happen.”


HOW DIFFICULT IS IT AS A DRIVER IF YOU’RE SECOND ON THE LAST LAP WHEN TO MAKE YOUR MOVE? “To some degree I’ve let go thinking about that because I’ve had races here where I’ve won and lost where you’re in position to make the move and the yellow comes out and you’ve just literally passed the start-finish line and you didn’t even get an opportunity to make the move. You’re like, ‘I should have made the move,’ and then over time I’ve had races where I feel like we’ve gotten into a spot to where we’re the leader on the last lap and it falls apart, where you get your doors blown off and it’s like, ‘Oh, I was up front too early.’ I think Talladega and Daytona these tracks are really easy to overthink. It’s not that you don’t want to put the effort in or the workload and all that, but sometimes you have to just allow yourself to accept the fact that there are only certain pieces you can control that being one of them. What’s gonna happen on the last lap? Do you want to be leading? Do you want to be second? There are so many circumstances around that that you can’t control, whether it’s a yellow coming out as I was just saying or either the line line behind you formulating the right way or the wrong way. To some degree you just want to get in position to strike and just be thankful for that and hopeful that you don’t do anything to screw it up and let circumstances dictate from there. Ultimately, the goal for me is I don’t ever think about, ‘Hey, I want to be in the lead or I want to be second on the last lap.’ I don’t really think about it that way. I think about it more so of I just want to be fortunate enough to be in the top two or three so that if things go my way they’ll go my way.”


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