Ford Performance NASCAR: All-Star Race (Aric Almirola Media Availability)

Ford PR

Aric Almirola met with media at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday afternoon after Cup Series practice for the Monster Energy All-Star Race. Almirola will try to race his way into the main event tonight by participating in the Monster Energy Open.

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield/Waffle House Ford Fusion — YOU GOT AN HOUR WITH THIS NEW PACKAGE, WHAT IS IT LIKE? “Different. I don’t know what other answers you go, but different. It is obviously a lot different than the norm and what we have been used to. Going that 40 mph slower than we are used to is a little different. The ability to race really closely around other cars at a mile and a half race track is also very different. I think that from just that one hour of practice there is still a lot to be seen. I think everybody was pretty cautious right there. A lot of us have one car for this race that we have put effort into. I think everybody is trying to make sure they make it to the All-Star race tonight with the car they showed up with. Everyone is trying to guess at what you have in a pack but also being mindful that practice didn’t pay a million dollars.”

ANY STRATEGY TO RACE YOUR WAY IN TONIGHT? WILL THE EXTRA TRACK TIME FROM THE OPEN HELP IF YOU MAKE THE ALL-STAR RACE? “Yeah. We start on the pole, so that is a really good start because we are the  highest car in owner points. That is a good thing that we have started off the year so well. While we haven’t won a race yet, we are the highest car in points that is in the Open. We will start on pole and hopefully get a good start and get out front. I hope to make it very boring for everybody and lead all 20 of those first laps of the first stage. That is my goal, to go out there and lead the first 20 laps and win Stage 1 so that we can come into the garage and park our car and work on it and get it ready for the All-Star race tonight.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE THROTTLE RESPONSE COMPARED TO YOUR NORMAL CAR, AND CAN YOU BRING HOME THE BACON TONIGHT? “Our goal is to bring home the bacon every night. For us, whether we win or lose we bring home the bacon. That is the beauty of having Smithfield as our sponsor. As for the throttle response. The restrictor plates on the engine reduce the horsepower drastically. We already at 1.5 mile races prior to this rules package with our current rules package have a tapered spacer plate to reduce some of the horsepower. Now they have gone a step further and put restrictor plates on and it does drastically reduce horsepower, almost so much that you launch off pit road and we will see on restarts but it appears on restarts that you will just push the gas down and go and you don’t have to really worry about wheel spin, at last on a track like this. Going forward we will have to wait and see. There are so many unknowns. Just in that little bit of practice it is quite a bit less responsive when you go to wide-open throttle.”

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES TO THE DRAFT WE WILL HAVE HERE TONIGHT COMPARED TO THE DRAFTING FANS ARE USED TO SEEING? “Well, the track is so much smaller so the radius of the corners is a lot tighter than at Daytona and Talladega. We go there and you run wide open really easily and don’t really bog your car down a lot with steering input because the corners are so wide and sweeping. This track is not like those and the radius of the corners is a lot tighter so it is a lot more challenging as you get further back in the pack from what I have seen in practice to be able to run wide open. The corners are sharper and you have less downforce and air on the car when you get further in the back. It is more of a challenge to run wide open because of the radius of the corners. While we are drafting and are closer together and do kind of suck up like you see at Daytona and Talladega, the straightaways are much smaller so there is less length of time to get that big run and it has to happen quick. When you get to the corner, you have to make sure your car handles good enough to be able to run wide open.”

CAN YOU TELL SPECIFIC DIFFERENCES OUT THERE OR JUST AN OVERALL FEELING THAT IT IS DIFFERENT THAN YOU ARE USED TO? “It is just an overall feeling. So far I think the biggest thing that I have noticed in talking to my teammates, the biggest thing we have noticed is the reduction in power. The cars have more downforce and more drag and you notice that for sure. The reduction in power is very evident and the first thing that I feel like I noticed in talking to some of the other guys that they noticed. Other than that, when you go out there to practice, you think about that for about one lap and then after that you are just trying to optimize your car. That is the beauty of what we have as a sport and the competitive nature is that it doesn’t matter what rules package NASCAR throws at us, we are all going to try to figure out how to optimize it to beat everybody else. That is just called competition. For us, that has been our focus, to take the rules package we have, optimize it and try to bring the fastest race car we can. I feel like the guys at Stewart-Haas Racing have done a really good job with that like everything else this year. Our cars are really fast, whether we are by ourselves or in the pack.”

DO YOU DO ANYTHING IN THE NEXT WEEK DIFFERENT THAN YOU ARE DOING IN BETWEEN WEEKS NOW TO GO FROM TWO RACES TO THE LONG 600 NEXT WEEK WITH YOUR BACK? “No. Leading into the 600 I will be very conscious of what I do for exercises and really a lot of stretching and mobility work leading into the 600 because it is the longest race of the year and we will be in the race car for upwards of four hours. I will definitely have to be conscious of stretching and making sure that I keep my spine mobilized and not get stiff before the race starts. In the past, through all the rehab and physical therapy and stuff that I have done, I have a pretty good idea of what that looks like.”

WHAT SURPRISED YOU ON WHAT YOU COULD OR COULDN’T DO AROUND OTHER CARS OUT THERE TODAY? “I think the biggest thing that surprised me was that the runs weren’t bigger. I thought that when we got in a pack or even just two cars, I felt like the idea behind the package was going to be for the trailing car to be able to get a big draft and get up to the lead car and be able to slingshot. I was surprised by that. It is a little more sophisticated than that and the runs are a little slower than I anticipated. I am not sure what that is. I don’t know if it is because of the race track and radius of the corners being tighter or the shorter straightaways or if it is actually the package but I was anticipating bigger runs and more ability to do something with the run.”

“From what I have seen in practice, if you want to win, you have to be in the top three spots. I think track position will play a part like we have seen in speedway racing the last few years. It used to be that you would see guys be able to drive from 10th or 15th and drive up through the field. Now everybody has optimized the package so much and the cars are so close in competition that is is harder to pass even at speedway racing. You see a green-white-checkered at Daytona or Talladega and the winner will usually come from the first two rows and I think you will see the same here from what I have seen so far. It seems track position will be important and it is hard to get these huge runs from any further back because the air is dirtier and dirtier back there.”

ANY IDEA HOW MANY CARS YOU NEED BEHIND YOU TO MAKE A RUN? “I don’t know. I ran in the pack some and then I watched on TV, on the closed circuit TV in the garage area and it looked like two or three cars could get lined up and get a run on the leader but it didn’t look like once they got side-by-side that one lane was more advantageous than another. I don’t know. I don’t think that hour of practice there was telling enough to be able to answer that question.”

CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR JOURNEY FROM LAST YEAR TO SIGNING AT STEWART-HAAS THIS YEAR AND ALL THE SUCCESS YOU’VE HAD? “I think when you look at it, just as a while, Stewart-Haas Racing as an organization is doing incredible this year. You look at Harvick with all the wins and Bowyer and Kurt and I consistently running in the top-10, Kurt in the top-five more often than I am. For me, kind of going from where I came from to now, I talked about it in Kansas, I showed up to the race track every week for the last few years and always went into it with a positive outlook but deep down inside never knew what to expect. I didn’t know of we would show up that week and have a 25th place car or a 10th place car. After a while that kind of wears on you, especially when you show up more often than not with a 20th place car. This year, every single time we go to the race track, when we get on the airplane to leave on a Thursday I feel like we have a shot and all the tools and resources to go and win. It is up to my crew chief and engineers and me and the guys on my team. We see it internally at our shop. The ability to win is there every single week. No matter what kind of racetrack it is. A superspeedway, intermediate, short track or concrete track like Bristol or Dover. We are competitive every single week. That is what you live for. That is why you do what you do, to go out and be competitive. If I played baseball growing up and lost every single game that I played, I probably wouldn’t have played baseball much because it isn’t fun. Same for racing. The reason I loved racing so much was that when I was a kid, more often than not I got a trophy and that makes it fun. I continued to pursue that passion. Then you make it to the top and it is really hard because the competition level is so high that more often than not you lose, even on a good year. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, you look at all the years those guys won championships and Martin Truex last year, he won a lot of races but he lost way more than he won. You have to identify what success looks like for you. For the last several years I feel like I got stagnant. In the beginning it was fun and I was just excited to be there because I was Cup racing. As time wears on, in 2014 we won at Daytona and made it into the playoffs and that was exciting. 2015 was probably our best year. We didn’t win a race and barely missed the playoffs but we were competitive and that was fun. The next two years just got stagnant and tailed off and the fun meter got pegged. It was not as exciting and not as fun. So this has honestly just been a rejuvenation for me and my career to be able to show up to the race track every week and feel like I am going to be competitive and have that confidence to know we are going to run top-10 as long as we don’t screw up and if we do everything right we will have a shot to win.”

IF YOU GET THE MILLION DOLLARS WILL THE AFTER PARTY START AT WAFFLE HOUSE? “Yes, after party at Waffle House, guaranteed. I will buy,”

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 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.