Ford Performance NASCAR: Aric Almirola Kansas

Ford PR

Ford Notes and Quotes

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)

KC Masterpiece 400 Advance (Kansas Speedway; Kansas City, KS)

Friday, May 11, 2018


Ford drivers Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Aric Almirola conducted separate Q&A sessions at Kansas Speedway this morning and discussed a variety of topics.  Here are transcripts of each press conference.

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion – WHAT HAS YOUR WEEK BEEN LIKE HERE IN KANSAS CITY?  “I’ve always enjoyed coming to Kansas City from the very beginning of working with Smithfield.  This used to be headquarters for Farmland and then as they’ve transitioned and created one Smithfield, now it’s headquarters for Kansas City area for Smithfield.  I love coming here.  It’s always a lot of fun.  I’ve got a great friend that I come and stay with and always look forward to coming to Kansas City, but yesterday getting to go to headquarters for Smithfield and get to see all of the employees.  I think they have about 900 employees here in the Kansas City area, so to come and see a lot of them and sign autographs and share the new paint scheme for this weekend was fun and exciting, and then to also donate money on behalf of Stewart-Haas Racing and Smithfield to Children’s Mercy Hospital here in Kansas City, which was a lot of fun and nice to do and be able to give back.  That’s one of the things that I’ve always loved about Smithfield is through all the food donations and donations to children’s hospitals around the areas, it makes it to where it’s an honor to represent their company because they do so much more than just put stickers on a race car and let me go ride around.  They actually get involved with the communities in which we race at.”


IS IT DIFFICULT TO NOT THINK ABOUT LAST YEAR’S ACCIDENT HERE AND PUT IT BEHIND YOU?  “I don’t think it’s difficult at all.  I show up to the race track every weekend and just go and focus on trying to get my car handling the way I want it to and fast and ready to go race for that weekend.  Every weekend is a different challenge because it’s a different track, but I never really let my mind drift back to that place, if you will.  When I came back here in the fall, it was probably a little bit more top of mind coming back here just a few months after breaking my back here in May when we came back in October.  But then to go through that weekend and we ran really well and I think we finished ninth, so to come back here and kind of get somewhat of redemption on the race track and sort of put that to bed and come here and run as well as we did and run top 10 I think it’s a non-issue.  I don’t even really thing about it.  I have to think about it because you guys ask about it, but I don’t think about it.”


DO YOU HAVE SOMETHING SPECIAL FOR YOUR WIFE ON MOTHER’S DAY THIS YEAR SINCE YOU WERE IN THE HOSPITAL A YEAR AGO?  “I actually brought my wife with me this time, so if I do end up not making it home at least she’s with me this year.  But my mom was gracious enough to babysit the kids this weekend, so kind of having a little getaway weekend with my wife and that’s been nice.”


DOES SHE HAVE A LINE OF CREDIT AT THE CASINO?  “No, we’re keeping her out of the casino, but I think she is across the street planning to do some shopping today, which could hurt.”


HOW IMPORTANT IS THE DIVERSITY PROGRAM IN NASCAR FOR NOT ONLY DRIVERS BUT CREWS AS WELL?  “Yeah, and one more to add to that is Suarez.  He went through the same program.  I think it’s important because, in my opinion, it gives people an opportunity they otherwise probably would never get the opportunity.  And as a race car driver that’s what we all ask for.  That’s what we all need.  You need that shot.  You need that opportunity and the reality is that most people growing up racing their late model or racing their go-kart, they don’t ever get that shot.  There’s probably thousands of kids out there that were more talented at racing go-karts than me.  I won my share of races and state championships and national championships, but I raced against other kids that were equally talented for sure.  And whether their parents could afford to take them to the next level or not was particularly an issue, and then once you get to late model stock racing your parents have to be really, really, really invested and bought in on trying to help you with a hobby because at that time it’s a hobby, and you have hopes and dreams of turning it into something.  You can play any stick-and-ball sport and it costs your parents at max maybe $1000 a year between paying for league fees and jerseys and maybe a new baseball glove and baseball bat every year or new cleats, and traveling to and from games.  To go racing, especially like late model racing, it cost a family between $75,000 and $150,000 a year depending on how much you want to spend.  You can spend more than $150,000 if you wanted to, so it is a very expensive sport to get in to and especially for a young child or a kid that’s 15-16 years old and you don’t know where it’s ever gonna go.  That’s a huge financial burden and investment on a family to basically throw that money away because everything I racing once you use it and race it, you’re gonna get 10 cents on the dollar for it.  So you go out and buy a new late model and a motor and you go through the year and you spend $150,000 to go race late models and then it doesn’t work out or you can’t afford to continue to do it, you’re gonna sell all that stuff and maybe get $25,000 for it all and your kid is not gonna be a professional race car driver.  That money is gone.  You never get it back.  So I think that’s the biggest challenge with trying to get younger kids into our sport and I think that’s where the diversity program really steps in as they help these kids with giving them that shot.  NASCAR and the Drive for Diversity take on that financial initiative and investment and invest in these kids and even on the crew side they allow them and give them the space and the opportunity to come and work in a shop and work in an environment where this is probably not available to them at the local short-track ranks.”


WHERE IS YOUR CONFIDENCE LEVEL ON A SCALE OF ONE TO 10 COMPARED TO A YEAR AGO?  “I’d say an eight.  I think my confidence is pretty high.  I’d say last year, not that I didn’t have confidence, but I was always unsure on what I was gonna get.  Last year, life was like a box of chocolates.  You never knew what you were gonna get from week to week.  This year, I know what I’m gonna get.  Every week I know I’m gonna show up with a car that I know is gonna be fast and that it’s up to Johnny and myself to do the best that we can to make it a race-winning car.  We have the product.  We have the potential to have a race-winning car each and every week and we can see it internally amongst our teammates.  We can look at what they have and that’s just gonna take time for Johnny and myself to continue to grow together and build a notebook together.  You’ve got to remember that Johnny is going on week 11 or week 12 of being a brand new crew chief.  He was never crew chief in the Truck ranks and was never a crew chief in the XFINITY ranks, so having him and him being as new to it as it is, it’s gonna take him time to continue to evolve and develop.  We’ve got a new lead race engineer that’s young and that’s one of the things that I think is so cool is that our team is really built for the future.  We’ve got a bunch of young guys on our team and we’re all really fired up and we’re all young and ambitious and I think as we continue to build and get better and better together, the future looks bright for us and we’re off to a good start even so.  Even these first 11 weeks we’re just a few points out of 10th in the points.  We’ve had four Top 10s, so we’re doing things well, but we see that there’s so much more potential out there for us.”


HOW HAS IT BEEN TO HAVE TEAMMATES?  “It’s been an experience, for sure.  It’s been nice to be able to go and sit in a hauler after practice and debrief with three other guys and three other crew chiefs and three other race engineers, and listen to the way that they describe their car, listen to the changes that they made that helped their car.  I mean, especially now with the schedule and the practices are getting more and more condensed.  We’re getting less on-track time, so you really only have a chance to make three or four changes per practice to really get an idea on a feel for setup changes and stuff.  So when you have three other cars in your organization that are also doing the same things and they’re making changes, you can kind of bounce ideas off of each other and learn.  You get basically more data for the given time that we have to be on track and that has been nice, but then just simply to hear how Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch approach the weekend and how they go from working on their car on Saturday to knowing what they need for it to be good on Sunday.  I mean, that’s experience and you gain that from 15-20 years of experience in this sport.  That just helps me tremendously, just being able to learn from their experience.”


HOW HAS THE TRANSITION BEEN GOING AT SHR?  “I think just the fact that I’ new to the organization and trying to figure out each and every week where we need to unload setup-wise.  Every time we feel like we’re starting to understand the trend, we go to a different race track or we show up with a new car and that trend doesn’t always play out.  We’ll show up on one weekend and be like, ‘We need to be a little bit tighter than where the 4 is gonna show up.’  And then we show up and we’re too tight and we’ve got to start freeing up.  We’ve got to continue to build our notebook with the 10 team and I think that’s what makes those other teams so strong, and you even listen to Bowyer talking about it.  He went through last year and had a lot of inconsistencies.  They’d run really good one week and then go two or three weekends and just be average, and then they’d run really good for two weeks and go through another couple weeks of not being where they wanted to be.  I feel like at least we’ve been consistent, but we just haven’t reached our max potential and I think that’s just gonna come with time and continuing to build our notebook to where we can go back to these tracks for a second and third and fourth time and say, ‘Hey, remember last time when we showed up we were x and we don’t definitely want to do that again.  We want to be here.’  Or, ‘Remember we were really good at this race track and this is what we had.  Let’s take that and massage on it and tweak it and make it better.’  So I feel like that’s kind of where we’re missing it compared to our teammates, just not having that database.”


WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS THIS YEAR?  “I think it would be huge.  That’s what we expect.  I think we went into the year hoping to be a team that’s capable of running for a championship and making the Playoffs and I think we’re on target for that.  We knew that the beginning of the year there would be some growing pains and we’d go through some ebbs and flows, but I feel like overall as a whole our company is a championship-caliber company and all three of our other cars are showing speed and doing the things that they need to do to make the Playoffs and we need to do our part and so far we are.  I feel like if we didn’t make the Playoffs it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but, by all means, we have the resources and the people at Stewart-Haas Racing and the cars capable of doing that.  I keep saying it, but it’s up to Johnny and my team and myself to go out and get the job done, so I feel like currently we’re on pace to do and that we’ve just got to continue to build and get better and I hope to be peaking by the time we get to the Playoffs.  I think we’ve got 15 more races until the Playoffs start, so that gives us 15 more weeks to continue to grow together and continue to build our foundation so that when we do start the Playoffs we’re firing on all eight cylinders.”


WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN YOU SAW THE REPORT ABOUT NASCAR POSSIBLY EXPLORING A SALE?  “As long as there is a place for me to show up and race, I’ve got my helmet and I’m ready to go race.  I just love to race cars and that’s kind of my take on it all.  I’ve raced for a lot of different sanctioning bodies throughout my career, whether it was WKA – the World Karting Association – or the Florida Automobile Stock Car Racing Association in Florida or whatever the next series was or the NASCAR Late Model Series, and I just show up every single weekend excited to go race and that’s what I love.  That’s what I’ve always done, so, for me, as long as there’s a platform and a ride available for me to go race, I don’t really care who owns it.  That’s just the truth.  I know that’s probably not the answer you’re looking for, but I could give a crap less.”


HOW DOES SHR STAY COLLABORATIVE AND NOT BREAK INTO YOUR SEPARATE TEAMS?  “I think that’s what makes Stewart-Haas Racing so successful is that you’ve got four competitive teams and obviously there is a lot of big personalities there and a lot of fun-loving spirit, but the commonality of Stewart-Haas Racing is that everybody that shows up to work, whether it’s Kevin Harvick or Tony Stewart or Gene Haas or the people sweeping the floors, everybody just loves racing.  I’ve been at a lot of organizations fortunately and unfortunately in my career, so I’ve gotten to see some of the good, bad and the ugly of each organization.  I’ve been a part of Joe Gibbs Racing.  I’ve been affiliated with Hendrick through Junior Motorsports and the six weeks that I spent working with Jimmie Johnson on that baby duty deal that I did there.  I’ve been a part of DEI.  I’ve been a part of RPM and through RPM I’ve gotten to work with Roush, so I’ve seen a lot of the garage area and the one thing that stands out to me the most at Stewart-Haas Racing is that from top to bottom the passion for just racing in general is unbelievable.  The people that work at Stewart-Haas Racing wake up every morning excited to go to work for no other reason than to just figure out how to make race cars go faster, and everybody wants to just pull their weight and that’s something that’s rare in this industry because this industry is very dog eat dog world and that’s just not the case at SHR.  Everybody is there to pull their own weight and to do the best that they can at their job to try and help make their part of the race car go faster, and that collective effort, I think, is what has Stewart-Haas Racing on top right now.”


TONY STEWART SAID YOU GUYS ARE COMING AND HE HAS A LOT OF FAITH IN YOU AND YOUR PROGRAM.  WHAT HAS TONY BROUGHT TO YOU AND YOUR TEAM?  “I think, for me, Tony is just a great calming voice because I sit back and I look at the success that all of my teammates are having and while, yes, we are running good and we are on pace to make the Playoffs, we’ve got an average finish of whatever they said, 12.5, so we’re doing good things, but human nature is greed.  You always want more, so if you would have told me going into the year before the season even started at Daytona that by Kansas in May we would be 11th in points, three points out of 10th and have an average finish of 12th, I would have probably said, ‘All right.  That’s awesome.  I’ll take it.’  But then you go through the year and you watch the 4 car run as good as they have and you watch the 14 car win Martinsville and run up front, and you watch the 41 car run up front, and we have too, but we haven’t always been as competitive as those cars.  Human nature is greed, so I get to where I want more.  I want to win and we’re only 11 races in, so Tony has been just a very calming voice.  He’s been like, ‘Be patient.  Your time is coming.  Your group is young.  Your group is new.  You’re new to the organization.  You’re meeting our expectations and then some.’  So that’ s just reassuring and it’s a confidence-builder for me.  Even though I want more and I’m greedy and I want to win and I want to run in the top five every week, they’re satisfied and they’re happy with where we’re at as a race team and that just allows me to not feel pressure and to be overly anxious and to just concentrate on continuing to build that foundation with Johnny and the 10 team and to get to where we need to be to run like Harvick and Bowyer and Kurt.”


WHAT CHANGES WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE TO THE DIVERSITY PROGRAM IN NASCAR?  “That’s a tough question.  It’s a slippery slope because the reality is that everybody needs a shot, everybody needs an opportunity, especially if they’ve shown that they deserve it and that they’ve proven that they deserve that opportunity.  But once you get that opportunity it’s up to you, it’s up to that individual to make the most of it and to kind of carry on and continue.  Not every time is the player that’s drafted in the first round of the draft going to make it, so there’s that process of evaluating where that person is at, giving them the shot and the opportunity, and then it’s up to them to go make the most if it.  If they do, then they create more opportunities for themselves.  You’ve seen that with Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez and Darrell Wallace and the other guys.  They’ve gotten that opportunity, they’ve had success, and then that success has led to more opportunities.  Unfortunately, there have been others that got the opportunity and it just hasn’t panned out.  They haven’t shown the speed or had the success and they don’t make it, so I don’t know.  I don’t think that anybody should be given anything and I don’t think that anybody expects to be given something that they don’t deserve, but I feel like as an athlete we all just want one shot, one opportunity, and if you get that shot and get that opportunity, then it’s up to you to go and make the most of it.”



About Greg Engle 7420 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.