Ford Performance NASCAR: Aric Almirola Martinsville Press Conference

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Ford Performance Notes and Quotes

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)

Saturday, March 23, 2019


EVENT: STP 500 Driver Media Availability (Aric Almirola)


ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 SHAZAM/Smithfield Ford Mustang – IT’S BEEN A STRONG START TO THE SEASON.  CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT?  “Yeah, it’s been a great start to 2019.  I really feel like as a team we’ve picked right up where we left off at the end of 2018.  Obviously, the end of 2018 was really good for us and we ran really strong, found ourselves in contention to win a lot of races, won at Talladega and closed out the year really strong, finishing fifth in the points, so if you’re not gonna make it to the final four, you might as well be the best of the rest and we were able to accomplish that, so that was really nice and I felt like that last four to five months of last season our team just really got on a roll and we were really in tune with each other and just maximizing each and every single weekend.  I feel like we’ve rolled out of 2019 the exact same way.  Daytona, it is what it is.  We got caught up in a wreck, but since then we’ve really maximized each and every weekend and done a really good job.”


WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR BETWEEN LOGANO AND TRUEX?  IS THE BUMP-AND-RUN STILL AN ACCEPTED PRACTICE?  “I don’t know.  I think it’s very situational.  Joey felt like with the position that they were in and where they were at with their race cars at the time, he didn’t feel like they had a car capable of going to Texas and winning or to Phoenix.  He felt like in the closing laps here at Martinsville that if he had that shot to win he needed to take it or else they were in a vulnerable spot to not make it to the Championship 4, where when you look at Martin’s situation he had like 60 or 70 bonus points going into that round of the Playoffs and felt very comfortable on points.  He obviously wanted to get the win, but not do or die, where Joey felt like he was in a do-or-die position.  So when you look at that it’s two very different dynamics and to be quite honest Martin has always raced like that.  Martin is probably one of the cleanest racers out on the circuit, and Joey has typically always raced like that.  Joey has always been very aggressive and not been afraid to lay the bumper to somebody and not really been afraid of the consequences if they come back to him, so I think that’s really just personality and situational more so than it is anything else.”


WOULD YOU DO THE SAME THINGS JOEY DID UNDER SIMILAR CIRCUMSTANCES?  “Sitting here in the media center it’s hard to give you an answer.  When you’re in the heat of the moment and the closing laps of the race and everything is so much different.  You’ve been in a hot race car for three hours.  It’s hard to sit here in the media center and give you that answer, but probably.”


DO YOU THINK THE TEAMS ARE GETTING MORE TUNED INTO THIS NEW PACKAGE AND TEXAS WILL BE BETTER THAN THE OTHER RACES?  “I think what we’ve seen so far is very typical of what happens in our sport.  There’s rule changes and when we have those rule changes there are a couple of teams that figure it out faster than anybody else, and they clearly separate themselves and I think with what you’ve seen at the beginning of the year Penske and Gibbs have done that.  They’ve figured it out and they’ve separated themselves.  It’s the same cars contending to win the races week in and week out at every track.  It doesn’t matter.  When you look back to Atlanta, Vegas, Phoenix and then California those cars were the most dominant cars.  There were some other cars that showed some slight moments of speed and competitiveness, but for the vast majority of the race and those weekends those cars are the ones to beat, but all of the other teams go to work.  They start looking at where their deficiencies are and start figuring it out and the really good teams catch up, and then we start to get more parity and you even saw that last year.  Look back at last year and look at the beginning of the year.  Through the first six months of the year nobody would have picked a Penske car to win the championship.  All the talk was about Gibbs and the 18 and the 78 and about Stewart-Haas Racing and the 4 car predominantly, but then you look at the latter half of the year and Brad goes on to win three races in a row, historic, big races – Darlington, Indy, the first race of the Playoffs – and then Joey wins here at Martinsville and wins the championship, so tides turn, things change, really good race teams go to work and develop and figure out what they need to go fast and so I feel like for us at Stewart-Haas Racing we’re in that stage right now.”


ARE YOU SURPRISED OR DID YOU ANTICIPATE HAVING MORE GRIP THAN WHAT WE’VE HAD?  “No, and I think one of the things is we’ve only got a small sample size of this before we implemented these rules.  We saw it at the All-Star Race and then we saw it at some test and all of the tests and the All-Star Race for that matter were 20-25 lap runs.  Nobody ever made a full fuel run with this package and I think when you look at the All-Star Race I believe the first stage was the longest of all the stages and towards the end of that stage it started to get strung out and people were lifting and it got more single-file, but then the caution comes out, all the cars get bunched back up, and everybody takes back off and then those last few stages were way shorter.  You see that with the racing we’re seeing today.  Ten laps it’s a hornet’s nest.  We’re all three, four, five-wide and it’s very racy, but then as the grip starts to go away and we all have to start lifting off the throttle there becomes separation in the field. I personally expected that.  I don’t know that NASCAR expected that, I’m not sure what their engineers and all the smart people that figure it out how to implement this package, I’m not sure what they saw on computer modeling and all that stuff, but from the little bit of testing that I did at Charlotte in October and kind of what we saw a small glimpse at the All-Star Race, I kind of expected that – that the racing would really be kind of crazy and exciting when we had new tires and a lot of grip in the cars, and then once the grip starts to go away and the tire falls off, the field would just separate.”


THE EXTRA HORSEPOWER YOU GUYS COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED FOR TO GET BACK FROM THE ALL-STAR RACE TO THIS YEAR, WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE YOU CAN FEEL?  “I don’t know.  It’s hard to say.  It’s hard to answer that question just because we haven’t done it at Charlotte.  It’s hard to say.  When you ask a race car driver, not all race car drivers, but when you ask most race car drivers about horsepower I’m always gonna tell you just more.  If you give me the option of having 300 horsepower or 310, I want 310.  If you give me the option of 400 horsepower and 1,000 horsepower, I want 1,000.  That’s what’s cool.  You grow up racing go-karts that make 10 horsepower and then you transition into a stock car that makes 400 horsepower and then I start driving super late models that make 600 horsepower and you kind of just go through the ranks and you get more power and faster cars and it becomes challenging the more the cars have more horsepower and you have to really hone your driving skill to keep the power connected to the ground and so I think every race car driver you ask will always ask for more horsepower.  NASCAR obviously asked our opinion and we all begged for more horsepower because we want to feel that acceleration and we want to go fast.”


CHANGES COULD BE COMING TO QUALIFYING FOR TEXAS.  WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE?  “I’m not sure what that’s gonna be.  I look forward to there being some modifications.  We’ve got to have obviously cars on the race track during qualifying.  I mean, that’s not good for anybody.  It’s not good for us.  It’s not good for the fans.  It’s not good for the sport for cars to not be on the race track during a qualifying session.  That being said, I’ve always been in favor of qualifying and the fastest car getting the pole.  I mean, that’s the way it’s been since I was a little kid.  I was eight years old and started racing go-karts and locally we would run heat races, but when I went to state races and national races we qualified and the fastest kids with the fastest go-karts qualified up front.  That’s all I’ve ever known and so this year with the qualifying rules the way they are, the fastest car doesn’t necessarily always get the pole.  It’s the guy that times it right at the line, gets the best draft, and it really has less to do about the fastest race car and more about situational, and so from that aspect I would hope that whatever rules come down the pipe incentivize again kind of what our roots are and where having the fastest race car means something in qualifying.”


HOW IMPORTANT OR HOW MUCH EFFORT OR HOW VITAL WOULD IT BE TO WIN MULTIPLE RACES THIS YEAR?  “I think that’s something Johnny my crew chief and I have looked at and talked about, and even the guys on our team is that when we look back at 2018 we won Talladega, which was great and fantastic and we did it in a clutch situation to be able to advance into the next round of the Playoffs, but when we look back at 2018 we can easily sit back and look at about five or six races that we woulda, shoulda, coulda won but didn’t, and we need to do a better job now with more experience and working together.  We need to do a better job at capitalizing on those opportunities.  When you look at the best teams in the garage – the 18, the 78, the 4, the Penske cars, the 2, the 22 – those guys, when they have cars capable of winning they win with them, and even sometimes when they don’t have cars capable of winning, when they’re a third, fourth, fifth-place car they find ways to win, and so that’s one of the things we look at when we look back at last year and that we want to improve going into 2019 is that if we’re dealt five or six opportunities to win races this year, we want to capitalize on more than just one when we look into this season.”


HARVICK SAID YOU GUYS HAVE TOP 5, TOP 10 GOOD CARS BUT NOT WINNING CARS AT THE MOMENT.  WOULD YOU AGREE WITH THAT AND DO YOU FEEL YOU CAN TURN IT AROUND IN TIME FOR TEXAS TO COMPETE WITH GIBBS AND PENSKE?  “Yeah, I do.  I think Texas is finally the first opportunity that we’ll have to actually implement change into our cars.  Our west coast cars were essentially built as we were getting ready for Atlanta.  All of our cars getting ready for Atlanta, Vegas, Phoenix, California were all with really one mindset and looking at certain things from the engineering department and the aero department.  Now we’ve had an opportunity to run those handful of races and go back and digest all of the information and look at everything and have this week gap here while we’re at Martinsville to go through and implement like, ‘OK, we’re getting beat?  Why?  And here’s why we think we’re getting beat let’s go to work in this area and let’s implement that into our Texas cars?’  So the west coast was really challenging for us.  I’m glad that we came out of the gate as strong as we did – that we weren’t off further – but I think it’s very evident to all of us at SHR that we’re not where we want to be and when you hear our leader, Kevin Harvick and Rodney and those guys talking about being off and not having what they need to win, we’re still leading laps.  I’ve led more laps in the beginning of this year than I’ve led in any other year in my career.  I’ve got four top 10s in a row.  I’m off to probably the best start of my career, and yet we feel like our cars are not where they were last year and that’s one of the things that has me the most pumped up about this season is that I feel like this year coming out of the gate we’re getting the absolute most out of our cars.  We have top 10, top 5 cars and we’re finishing top 10 and top 5, so when we get our cars where we need to win, I feel like we’ll find ourselves in position to win some races.  But, right now, we have been off through these first few races and everybody knows that – the aero department, the engineering department, the people down on the shop floor – they’ve already been turning some long hours to correct some things that we feel like we’ve been missing and I think some of that will already be implemented into our Texas cars and then it will just continue to develop and we’re gonna be playing catch-up until we’re routinely challenging to win races.”


HOW DOES HIGH DOWNFORCE CHANGE A SHORT TRACK RACE?  “That’s a great question and I don’t know the answer to that.  I thought last year we had a lot of great short track races, to be honest.  Phoenix, and a lot of people get hung up on Phoenix being a short track.  It’s a mile and so technically it’s a short track, but it doesn’t race anything like a short track.  It is so fast.  It’s a mutt.  It’s a hybrid of a downforce track that’s short track in length, where when you look at the races last year from like Richmond and Bristol and Martinsville we’ve had some great races at those nostalgic short tracks, so, yeah, I think just our crop of drivers and the teams and everybody they just do such a great job at bringing really competitive race cars to these short tracks and the drivers get all they can get and we end up usually making it pretty exciting.”


DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE MARTINSVILLE MOMENT EITHER AS A FAN OR A DRIVER?  “No, not really.  Growing up I certainly watched NASCAR every weekend.  We would be at whatever local track we were racing on Saturday night and then Sunday morning get up, go to church, come home from church and turn on the TV and watch the NASCAR race.  That was a very atypical weekend for us, but there’s not a Martinsville-specific race that stands out for me when I was a kid growing up.  My first real memory of Martinsville was when I came here to race a late model.  I thought it was so cool.  This was the first time I had ever raced at a NASCAR track where the Cup cars raced, and I just remember driving in with the truck and trailer and crossing the track and thinking, ‘Oh man, this is awesome.  We’re here.  We’re where the big boys race.’  And just feeling so amped up and excited when we came for the late model race that they run here.  It’s an amazing event.  At the time they were getting 250, 300 late models to make a 40-car field, so it was really, really cool and really exciting to come for those events.”