Ford Notes and Quotes
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Gander Outdoors 400 (Pocono Raceway; Pocono, PA)
Saturday, July 21, 2018
Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing, comes to Pocono after a strong effort last week at New Hampshire still searching for that elusive first win of the season. Almirola met with media members Saturday morning ahead of the first MENCS practice session at the Tricky Triangle.
ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion: HOW DID YOUR RACE LAST WEEK COMPARE TO DAYTONA AND CHICAGO? “They are all a little bit different. Daytona, leading on the last lap in the biggest race of the year. Chicago, we led a lot early and definitely had a dominant car and then two loose wheels that kind of set up the beginning of defeat rather early in the race. Loudon was like, alright, we’ve got a car capable of winning and it was towards the end of the race. We had just passed Harvick with 40 laps to go and we were kind of setting sail. It was like there. They are all a little different but all very capable of leaving those race tracks with trophies. They all equally hurt. When you think about opportunities and rising to the occasion and going to victory lane, those three were definitely opportunities for us to get out Smithfield Ford Fusion to victory lane.”
WHAT HAS THIS YEAR DONE FOR YOUR CONFIDENCE IN YOURSELF AS A DRIVER? “It has given me a tremendous amount of confidence and belief in myself. I have talked a lot this year and especially the last couple of weeks just about the last six years. I have always been unsure if it was the equipment, my team, me? Do I just not stack up? Am I holding the team back? I think it is natural as a human being to question everything but particularly yourself. So, having this opportunity driving the best equipment in the garage at Stewart-Haas Racing and me being able to rise to the challenge and go out there and run up front and lead laps and be competitive it gives me a lot of confidence in myself and in my ability to know that given the right circumstances and the right opportunity that I can go and compete with the best.”
THIS HASN’T ALWAYS BEEN YOUR BEST TRACK BUT IS THIS A TOP-FIVE WEEKEND FOR YOU THIS WEEK? “I think so. We are going to qualify better than 34th. We had a tire issue in qualifying here last time that set us back and we spent the entire race clawing our way back to the front. I feel like we will get off to a better start this weekend and we know we have speed in the car. I feel good about it. I have never said that before in 12 or 14 trips to Pocono. I have never said that I feel good about coming into the weekend at Pocono, but this weekend I do. I am excited about the weekend and I am actually looking forward to racing here at Pocono. I think we will have a good enough car to go and run up front.”
NEXT WEEK AT WATKINS GLEN, HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING INTO THE ROAD COURSE RACE? WITH ONE COMING IN THE PLAYOFFS, IS IT MORE IMPORTANT TO YOU? “Road course racing has been arguably my achilles heel throughout my career and I don’t claim to be very good at road course racing at all. I have always worked really hard at it to try and be better. As a race car driver, you want to be versatile. You want to be able to contend for wins on super speedways and intermediate tracks and short tracks — challenging tracks and road course tracks. You don’t want to be weak in any one area. For me, that has been a big challenge to conquer road course racing. I have put a lot of effort into this year and being a better road course racer and had a lot of help with that. With Ford, they have helped me a lot with a lot of time in the simulator. With our race team at Stewart-Haas Racing with a lot of data to look at and a lot of things to study. On top of that, running the K&N race out in Sonoma before the Cup race, I feel like that helped me a lot to get ready for Sunday. I got my first ever top-10 on a road course out at Sonoma and had a really good run and was really fast. Same thing going into Watkins Glen. I have worked really hard studying data and getting ready in the Ford simulator and we are fortunate enough to have Stewart-Haas Racing and GoBowling for that weekend because it is the GoBowling weekend at the Glen. We are going to have a GoBowling car on the race track on Saturday in the Xfinity race which I feel will help me get in a rhythm for Sunday and hopefully that will pay off for Sunday at Watkins Glen. Road course racing is definitely not something that I am overly comfortable with or something I claim to be good at by any means but through hard work I am trying to get a lot better at it and I feel like I have.”
ARE YOU KIND OF LEARNING HOW TO WIN AFTER THE LAST COUPLE YEARS OF WHERE YOUR CAREER WAS? IN RUNNING UP FRONT, ARE YOU LEARNING TO WIN? “Yeah, you are exactly right. I talked a lot going into the season at Daytona and at media day and throughout the beginning of the year about how I felt like a rookie again. I kind of approached this year trying to erase everything from my memory bank and start with a clean slate and a fresh sheet of paper. A lot of it with the poking and prodding of Johnny, my crew chief. We wanted to start clean, learn together and grow together and build our foundation together. I have really approached this year that way. Yes, I have had to re-learn different techniques and different things that I am doing in the car. I have learned how to race completely different. It really is a different atmosphere when you are running inside the top-10 and top-five with the way you race and the way you go about your strategy and things like that. For the last six years you would race tooth and nail for the lucky dog every weekend. You’re strategy revolves around taking wave arounds and trying to figure out how to get back on the lead lap at the end of the race and how to get creative with the strategy to put yourself in position to put yourself on the lead lap. It is completely different. That is one thing that I have really appreciated is going through that process with my team and Johnny Klausmeier and my engineers from the beginning of the season starting at ground zero and building that foundation of learning not only the cars but how to race and how to challenge for wins. It really is an art. You look at Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch and Martin Truex and all those guys, Jimmie Johnson, you look at those guys that have run up front and win on a consistent basis and there really is an art to winning. They know what they need, when to push, when not to push. They know when to be aggressive and when to make the aggressive pit call or follow suit with everybody else’s strategy. There is a lot that plays into it other than having a fast race car. I feel we have done that part. We have shown up with fast race cars, especially the last six to eight weeks. But now we are starting to really hone in on all the other parts of what it takes to go win.”
LAST WEEK YOU WERE BUMMED OUT WITH A THIRD-PLACE FINISH. LAST YEAR YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN THRILLED WITH A THIRD-PLACE FINISH. IS THAT A ILLUSTRATION OF WHERE YOU ARE AT NOW? “Certainly. As a race car driver, and everyone in the garage is that way, you have to be a realist and kind of know what you have, what you have to work with and optimize that. Last year, absolutely, if we would have taken a car that wasn’t capable of running top-10 or top-15 and somehow managed to finish top-five with it, we would have been elated because that wasn’t the norm. This year that is not the case. We have cars capable of winning. When you have cars capable of winning and you don’t win, you are bummed out. It is just the way it is. I think that just comes from the competitive nature of me personally. I can’t speak for everybody. I think most race car drivers are that way. You know what your car is capable of. Only we know that. From the outside you can watch the guy running 25th on Sunday and go, ‘Man, he is terrible.’ But you have no idea what that guy is challenged with in the race car and how hard he is trying. Often times, and I have talked to Johnny about this, I can promise you that I work my guts out to finish 20th way more than I have worked to lead 70 laps at Chicago. When your car is driving good and doing the things you want it to, everything just kind of slows down and is calmer and your car drives good and you are not right on the edge of out of control every single corner. When you are racing your butt off to try to stay on the lead lap and your car is not driving good and you are sliding all over the place, it is a lot of work. You go into race weekend and you know what you are faced with and you know the challenge ahead. Every weekend my goal as a race car driver is to meet that challenge. If I have a 10th place car I want to run top-10 with it and if I have a car capable of winning I want to win with it. I feel we’ve had that opportunity a few times and haven’t broken through yet. That is why the disappointment was on my face Sunday.”
IS THERE AN ART TO CLOSING OUT A WIN AS WELL? WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO TO FINISH OUT THE DEAL? “Yeah, there is. You look at every form of major sports and there are the people that want the ball in the last few seconds of the game and there are the people that are going to pass the ball in the last few seconds of the game. I have claimed going into this season that I want to be the guy that wants the ball. Yes, there is an art to closing. We as a team have got to get better at that. It is not any one thing. It is not any one man. But I am a big part of that. I have to do my part. When you look at Loudon and it comes down to a restart with 36 laps to go and I have got the best car restarting third, pissed off that I didn’t come out with the lead but still have a really good opportunity in front of me to go challenge for the win and then I made a mistake. I anticipated the restart and earlier in the race Kyle went long in the restart zone and this time he went right at it. It caught me by surprise and I got in a hurry trying to go and spun my tires. I made a mistake. Those mistakes like that and even on pit road for us, those are just going to make us better as long as we learn from them. Those are opportunities to learn. Those are situations that honestly I haven’t routinely been in. Like you say, you look at the guys that I was racing and those guys race for the lead almost every single weekend. They are accustomed to that and used to that and put in situations like that all the time. That is a little big foreign for me. I think that will take time for me to just continue to learn and learn from those experiences and if I continue to make those mistakes I feel like that is when we will have a problem. For right now I feel like that was just a learning experience and we will take that and put it in the memory bank and hopefully use that to capitalize on another weekend.