Ford Performance NASCAR: Aric Almirola Media Availability Transcript

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)

Auto Club 400 Media Availability (Auto Club Speedway)

Friday, March 16, 2018

 

Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion, comes into this weekend with back-to-back Top 10 finishes sits 10th in the driver standings after four races.  He came into the Auto Club Speedway infield media center before qualifying to discuss his season to date.

 

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion – WHAT KIND OF KNOWLEDGE ARE YOU BRINGING TO FONTANA THIS WEEK?  “None.  I think just showing up with a new team every weekend there is so much different about their cars than where I’ve been in the past, so I am literally showing up every weekend with a blank slate.  I feel like a rookie driver again.  I’m studying driver data and watching old race footage and doing all the things that I’ve always done, but now I have a new team and teammate to lean on and it’s just so different than anything I’ve had in the past, so the learning curve is still there and I feel like I’m learning every week and getting better every week.  Fridays are the most difficult part of the week just because we show up with no history together, no notebook and every driver wants something a little different, so just trying to figure that out and figure out the differences between me and my teammates so that Johnny, my crew chief, can hone in on something better to show up with and for me to gain confidence in that to unload off the truck at a place like there, where you’re running 215 miles an hour down into turn one and your first lap on the race track is a qualifying lap.  It’s really difficult.  It’s hard to explain, but it’s really difficult and that just comes with confidence and repetition.  You asked me what I bring to the race track from the past and the truth to that answer is not very much.”

 

STATISTICS SHOW YOU’VE IMPROVED MORE THAN 14 POSITIONS BETWEEN QUALIFYING AND THE END OF THE RACE.  HOW DO YOU WORK ON FRIDAY AND GET IT BETTER?  “Qualify 14 spots better, so that the end result is a win.  I don’t know.  Like I said, I think when we start showing up to these race tracks for the second time in the year that’s when it’s really gonna pay off, building this notebook that Johnny and I are working on.  We’re already starting in these first few weeks of putting trends together – where we end up by the end of the weekend where I’m most comfortable with the car versus our teammates and those trends we’re starting to build those in to our unloading setups, so that has helped this weekend.  We unloaded and were fifth-fastest right off the truck and I think our last run put us up to third, so that is helping make this Friday in particular go a lot smoother.  The last two weekends it’s tough, and then on top of that NASCAR has shortened our practice on Fridays.  We used to have 1 hour and 25 minutes and now we have 50 minutes, so it took a half-hour of practice away from us on Fridays, which is even more challenging for a new race team that’s working together like ours.”

 

WHERE IS YOUR CAR DIFFERENT FROM WHAT YOU DROVE AT RPM?  “I can’t tell you (laughing).  It’s everything.  You just walk in the shop and it’s everything.  It’s people.  It’s resources.  It’s wind tunnel time.  It’s engineering.  It’s the attention to detail to every part and piece on the race car and in order to do that you have to have manpower capable of doing that.  You can’t take a group of 30 people and make them focus on the thousands of parts and pieces that are on the race car, but you can take 400 people and do that, so increased manpower, increased resources and engineering and technology I think pretty much sums it up.”

 

ARE YOU SURPRISED WITH WHAT’S HAPPENED TO START THE YEAR OR IS THIS WHAT YOU EXPECTED?  “A little of both.  I think having expectations is one thing, but then meeting those expectations is something completely different.  I had high hopes and I had high expectations, but the fact that we’ve been able to go out and in the first race of the year come up a half-a-lap away from winning the Daytona 500 and then not let that beat our team down.  For us to just kind of take the fighter mentality and to bounce back in the next several weeks just have these solid runs, that has been the most gratifying.  Going into that year I think every team in the garage, especially the top tier teams, they go in with a little unknown, but a lot of high expectations and then when you get to the first few weeks of the year, you realize whether or not you’ve met those expectations.  For me, I feel like we’ve met and slightly exceeded our expectations.  I think Johnny and I sat down at the beginning of the year and we thought that running top 15 right out of the gate on a regular basis would be ideal and so we’ve done better than that.  I’m proud of that and I’m pleased that we’ve gotten off to such a great start, but, at the same time, when you look at that company and you look at how fast their cars are across the board – my other three teammates show speed every week and are running up in the top 10, so if I wasn’t I would feel like we’ve got a big problem.  It makes me happy in not only our team, but in myself to be able to get in that car and go get the job done to be able to at least be competitive and on a level playing field with at least two of my other teammates.  We’ve got one that’s just incredible right now and they’ve been doing a great job, but I think for us as a new team and a new group of guys all working together I feel like we’re off to a really good start.”

 

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT IT HAS BEEN LIKE TO HAVE YOUR THREE TEAMMATES TO LEAN ON?  “It’s been incredible.  I think the one thing I’ve picked up the most on is to see how successful all of those guys have been in the past.  I obviously have raced with them on the race track and I know how good each and every one of them is, but then to look at all their driver data and to see that they all do something a little different and they all want something a little different out of their race car it gives me confidence to just go over there to Stewart-Haas Racing and just do what I do.  They’ve got fast race cars and they’ve got really smart people and they’ll be able to conform and work around my style and that I don’t have to adapt and drive like anybody else.  That’s been the most eye-opening thing for me is that all of those guys are always fast and they always run up front and they qualify up front and they race up front and they all do something different, they all require something different setup-wise, they all do something different on their driver data, so that’s giving me a lot of confidence to just be me, to just go over there and drive the race car like I know how, give them feedback on what I want the race car to do different and they’ll work around it, and we have a group of people and smart people and really fast race cars to be able to adapt.”

 

CAN YOU FEEL YOUR CONFIDENCE COMING BACK?  “Every race car driver at this level has been really good at everything they did before they got here or else they wouldn’t have gotten here.  There was a day and time when I showed up at the race track in other series and I had loads of confidence and knew that I was gonna run good no matter what, and I have been beat down for sure racing at this level over the last several years just not producing the results.  That’s hard to swallow.  When you grow up and you win races and win state championships and national championships and racing go-karts and racing late models and you’re successful and you work your way up through the ranks and then you get all the way here to the elite and 20th is a good day, that’s hard to adjust to that mentality and it does take a toll on your confidence.  So it is gonna take a while to build my confidence back up and get to where I need to be to, like I said, unload at California Speedway in qualifying trim and run 215 miles an hour down into turn one and know that everything is gonna be OK.  My car is gonna stick when I get there.  That just takes time and I think one thing that’s helped the most is I’ve showed up to a lot of these race tracks the beginning part of this year which have historically not been good race tracks for me.  I’ve historically not run well at Vegas.  I’ve historically not run well at Atlanta.  Phoenix has been an OK track for me, but to go to those race tracks and produce the results that we have had me really excited about the race tracks coming down the pipe that I feel like are race tracks that I’ve excelled at even with the slightly underfunded team and not the best race cars.  I’ve still been able to run well and produce results at those race tracks, so I’m excited to see what we can accomplish when we get to those kind of race tracks.”

 

YOU ARE AT THE SHOP A LOT SO OTHER GUYS ARE COMING MORE – EVEN CLINT BOWYER.  “Yeah, that’s true.  I think, for me, it started right after we made the announcement that I was gonna join Stewart-Haas Racing.  I wanted to get over there.  I felt like I had gotten a new lease on life and with my career, so I was so excited to wake up in the morning and go to the shop and meet with the guys and learn the guys.  I’ve said it a lot, there are 380 employees there, so just going and learning people’s faces and attaching a name to that face and understanding what role they have in the shop, so that way if I have a question about something I don’t have to go to Johnny and say, ‘Hey, can you point me in the right direction I need to go talk to somebody about my brake pedal in the race car.’  I can go right to the guy in shop or I can talk to the guys about suspension or my seat or whatever it is, and so for that reason I was going to the shop a lot over the offseason just because I completely re-did the entire way I sat in the car and everything from where I was for the last six years to now at Stewart-Haas Racing.  So that made me stay at the shop a lot, but on top of that I’ve been wanting to be at the shop just to be a part of the team.  I’ve said all along from the very beginning I just want to contribute to this team.  This is an incredible team.  They’re gonna produce results with or without me, so I feel like my biggest role that I can play is to contribute and whether that’s contribute through running well or providing information on what changes we made in practice and what it did to my car, all of those things I feel like are gonna make me a little bit valuable to the team because I do feel like the team, and they’ve proven it in the past, the team is a championship-caliber team.  Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch are gonna win races with or without me at Stewart-Haas Racing, so I feel like my biggest thing is just being able to contribute and ultimately I want to contribute in the way of hanging banners up in the shop.  I would love that too, but we’ve got to take baby steps before we can take off running and for right now the best way we can contribute is to show up at the race track and run well and have data that’s valuable to the other teammates.”

 

HOW IS YOUR BACK FEELING?  “Surprisingly well.  It’s funny you say that.  The very first test that I did on the seven-post shaker rig after I broke my back to make sure that my back felt OK enough to get back in the race car was we ran the track mapped file from Auto Club Speedway because it’s the roughest race track that we go to.  So six weeks after I broke my back I went to Ford’s seven-post shaker rig and sat in my race car on that shaker rig with the car running a mock lap around this race track and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Holy cow, is it really that rough?’  And then we showed up back here and the answer is yes, it really is that rough.  But my back feels great.  Thank you for asking.  I feel like I am better than 100 percent.  I feel like I’m more physically fit and in better shape than I was pre-accident just because after my accident I had to be really diligent with my rehab and my physical therapy just to be able to hurry up the process to be able to get back in the car, and I just kind of kept that mentality and kept that workout regimen going, so I feel like right now I’m probably in the best shape of my life.”

 

HOW IS THE GRIP LEVEL ON THE TRACK?  “High, really, really fast.  It’s crazy how gripped up these cars are and how fast we’re going at this race track.  Usually, you think about coming to Auto Club Speedway and you think about slipping and sliding around, and we will, we’ll get there as the weekend progresses and as we switch over to race trim, but here in qualifying trim it is insane how fast we’re going.  I think some of that is the fact that we showed up on a green race track, but regardless the track was gonna be green.  We were the first cars on the track this morning.  There was no other series that ran on the track before us, so I don’t think it made much difference.”

 

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