Joe Gibbs Racing driver Aric Almirola was made available to the media prior to practice for the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday.

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 19 He Gets Us Toyota GR Supra, Joe Gibbs Racing

What’s it been like being a mentor for some of the younger drivers at Joe Gibbs Racing?

“It’s been rewarding, honestly. I’ve talked a lot about this in the offseason, in interviews and things that I’ve done, but I haven’t really had an opportunity to practice what I was preaching, and now that I have, it has been really rewarding to take that transition from the last several years of serving myself as a professional athlete and a competitor in NASCAR and trying to get to the top, and once I got to the top, trying to stay there and establish myself. It was very self-serving, everything about what I did was about how do I make myself better, how do I advance my career, everything revolved around me. To come to this next chapter, this next season of life where I have the opportunity to invest in others and serve others and try and help them achieve their goals and dreams, while helping Coach (Joe Gibbs) and the entire race team has been very rewarding.”

Can you talk about how things have changed since Milwaukee 2007 with Joe Gibbs Racing?

“I was hurt. I was deeply hurt at Milwaukee when I had to get out of the race car. Looking back on it, I understand. I still don’t like it, but I understand. It was in Milwaukee. The CEO of Rockwell Automation was there. He didn’t really understand racing, and all he knew that Denny Hamlin was their driver, and he was sitting on the pit box and wanted him in the car. I think for me I was pretty hurt by that, and that I didn’t really see a real opportunity for me to grow my career at Joe Gibbs Racing. They had just signed Kyle Busch to come over to replace J.J Yeley, so I didn’t see where there was a path for me to go Cup racing at Joe Gibbs Racing. At the same time, Mark Martin called me and said, I want you to share this car with me, which was very appealing to a 22, 23-year-old kid to go share a car with Mark Martin and learn from him, so I went and talked to J.D. (Gibbs) and Coach (Joe Gibbs) at the time was going back and forth with the Redskins. He had just gone back to coach the Redskins, but would still come back after the football season, so that was kind of the summertime, and I remember meeting with Coach and J.D. – I still had a contract to be at Joe Gibbs Racing, and so I asked them to let me out of my contract with Joe Gibbs Racing to go do that opportunity with Mark Martin, and I remember plain as day, J.D. said, absolutely, I want what is best for you. When I hired you here, I wanted what was best for you and I hoped it would be at Joe Gibbs Racing for your entire career, but I’m not going to hold you back from an opportunity like this, the only thing I will tell you, is that I hope you come back, and here I am 16 years from that time, back. I think that is just a testament to the Gibbs family. I have pictures, I was going through them the other day, I put one out on social media of J.D. coming to Richmond to watch me in my first race, which met the world to me, but I have other pictures of when I left and when I was driving the Army car with Mark Martin, when I was driving for Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. in the Xfinity Series, I have pictures of me and J.D. on pit road, laughing together and sharing a moment together, him coming to give me a hug. He came to my wedding. I wasn’t driving for Joe Gibbs Racing anymore. I got married in 2010, and J.D. was at my wedding. I just always had a great relationship with the Gibbs family, and on a professional side, Milwaukee hurt, but from a personal side, they have met a lot to me. When Coach called me and asked me to come back home to Joe Gibbs Racing, and that is exactly how he phrased it, it was kind of a no brainer for me that this felt right. I’m excited about that and being able to finish out my chapter at where it started. Not a lot of people get that opportunity, so I think that is really special to have that opportunity to do that.”

What are your expectations on getting in-and-out on a part-time basis?

“I would expect to be very competitive. They are competitive race cars. Their race cars are some of the best in the Xfinity Series garage, but I think too, you have to be realistic and I’m doing this on a part-time basis and I’m going against all of these drivers and teams that do it each and every week – it’s going to be really hard. You take Cup guys. You take William Bryon, and all of these guys – they go run super late model races, and they run a handful of them a year, they don’t go and win and dominate, because they are going against the best super late model racers and those guys do it, week-in and week-out. It’s really challenging to go and compete against anybody when they are at the top of their game and they are doing it every week, so I realize that is going to be a challenge. It is not a shoo-in that I’m going to win every time that I climb in a Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity car, there is a lot of good teams, there is a lot of good young drivers and talented guys that are coming up through that series and they do it every week. Every week when they get in the car and fire off for practice, they know exactly what to expect out of the race car, where I’m going to kind of be feeling it out. I haven’t drove a Xfinity car on an oval in a long, long time. I think for me, it will come, but I might be a little slower to get up to speed in practice. I probably won’t qualify as good, and halfway through the race, it will probably all start to click.”

Can you talk about the wind and how it will affect the racing this weekend?

“I don’t recall a time when I’ve been at a track when it’s been this windy. I believe I was here years ago and it was 20 plus mph. Jimmie Johnson and I thought it would be a great idea to go for a bike ride between practice and qualifying and we rode our bikes out of the tunnel and went north on that rode out behind the race track, and I remember we were going like 30 mph that way, and when we turned around to come back, we were like pedaling for all we were worth and going like six mph, and it was an absolute grind, and we finally ended up having to call his bus driver to come pick us up, because we weren’t going to make it back in time to make it for qualifying. That was a pretty windy day, but I don’t think the race that weekend was very windy. I don’t recall a time where we’ve been at a race track, and it’s been this windy. It will be a challenge just because you will have these random gusts of wind that will challenge the balance of your car and then you won’t know if you have a flat tire or if your handling is going away or if it was just the wind, so it will just cost more unknowns and question marks and it will be harder for you to hit your marks as a driver to be precise and consistent because the wind is not going to be consistent. It is not going to be a steady 30 mph, constantly, it is going to swirl, it is going to gust, so yeah, it is going to present some challenges.”

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