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JAN 23, 2018 | Ford Performance Staff

Almirola Discusses Transition to Stewart-Haas Racing


DAYTONA - Aric Almirola addressed media members at the Charlotte Media Tour on Tuesday for the first time as a driver for Stewart-Haas Racing.

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Ford Fusion
“Honestly it has been easy. The transition to Stewart-Haas Racing has been really easy. They have so many talented people that they just make the transition easy. Everybody from the marketing and PR side to the personnel on the shop floor and the guys on the team. It has been great. That transition has been fun. It has been easy, fun, all of the above. I have just been really looking forward to getting to the race track to go race. We go all off season and work on all the little things. Changing teams is a big undertaking. I would say that the most challenging thing has been learning 380 employees names and faces. That is one of the most challenging things. Besides that, just all the little things like getting your seat right and going and trying to work with a new team and new pedals and new seat and seat insert. All those things. Making sure I am comfortable when the season starts inside the race car.”

DID YOU ALREADY HAVE A RELATIONSHIP OR FRIENDSHIP WITH KEVIN, KURT OR CLINT BEFORE THIS? “Obviously we see each other every week at the race track and there is that peer relationship, acquaintance relationship. I am the kind of guy that for the most part am pretty easy to get along with. I don’t create a lot of turmoil or animosity. I have never had negative interactions with any of those guys but to call them friends or have a great relationship with them, no. But that is coming. I plan that by a few races into the season have a great relationship with those guys. i want to help. I want to be a part of the team and contribute to Stewart-Haas Racing and help put banners up inside the shop. I want to help them. I want to be a contributing factor to the race team. I am a firm believer that high tide raises all ships. If I can go and do my part and do my job and contribute, then hopefully we will all run better together.”

WHAT DID YOU DO WITH SMITHFIELD TO DEVELOP SUCH A GREAT RELATIONSHIP THAT THEY FOLLOWED YOU? “Nothing special. I have just been myself. I think Smithfield is a family started company and they are built around people eating dinner together as a family and people with good values. Smithfield is really about producing quality food with good values. I feel like they have seen that in me just by me being me. I am a family man at heart and I am somebody that tries to hold myself to a high standard and I feel like that has resonated with them at Smithfield.”

BOWYER WAS IN YOUR POSITION LAST YEAR. CAN YOU LEARN ANYTHING FROM HIM? “Sure. First, he has already told me that the first thing to expect is that it is a hell of a lot more fun to drive cars that are fast and run up front. I am looking forward to that. I think I can learn from Clint and how that transition went for him over to Stewart-Haas Racing. I think I can learn something from everybody. That is one thing I am really looking forward to with having the ability to lean on Kevin, Kurt and Clint. They are champions and Clint has had a lot of success as well. I have got three great race car drivers to really speed up my learning curve and I think I will be able to have that at my fingertips each and every weekend. I am excited about it.”

DOES IT MAKE IT ANY EASIER THAT YOU WERE IN A FORD FUSION AND ARE STAYING IN A FORD? “I am happy about continuing my relationship with Smithfield and with Ford Motor Company. I have enjoyed that relationship with them and the continuity of having the sponsor and manufacturer stay the same. That part is awesome. I have a task at hand. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what manufacturer or sponsor is on the car, I want to go out and compete and win. For me, I think it is about just going out and doing my best each and every weekend. I would love to put Ford Motor Company back in victory lane. They put a lot of resources and effort into winning on Sunday. Their whole company was built on motorsports. If Henry Ford wouldn’t have won that race with Sweepstakes they don’t feel like Ford Motor Company would have every took off the ground. Racing is in their DNA and they are adamant about that. From that aspect, I couldn’t be more proud to drive a blue oval.”

HOW WAS YOUR CONDITIONING IN THE OFF SEASON COMPARED TO PREVIOUS YEARS DUE TO YOUR INJURY LAST YEAR? “I don’t think my conditioning has changed much from prior years. I just feel like I have more motivation. I have sort of that carrot dangling out in front of me that with this opportunity and it being such a great one for me to go out and be successful that I don't want to be the weak link. It pushes me harder through my training and all the rehab and stuff that I have done leading up to this point. everything has gotten me into a position where I have an incredible opportunity right in front of me. That fire deep down inside of me burns even hotter. It elevates every aspect of my life, of my career. I am more energetic, more excited, more happy and my workouts are more kick-ass.”

DO YOU FEEL YOUR BACK IS 100%? “I think my back is a non-issue. I don’t think about it. I would consider it a non-issue. I would say it is 100% because I don’t think about it. It is not a limiting factor in anything I do exercise wise. It doesn’t limit me from driving a race car, jumping on a trampoline, downhill skiing. It doesn't limite me. It is completely a non-issue. I feel ready to go.”

SEEMS LIKE WE SAY TEAMS UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THE PLAYOFF POINTS. SEEING WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR WITH THE 78, HOW DO YOU FEEL THAT INTENSITY MIGHT RAMP UP WITH STAGE RACING? “I think stage points really just boil down to having fast race cars and executing the race well. I think you can talk about stage points until you are blue in the face but if you have a 20th place car, it is really hard to go up there and just magically run in the top-10 and get stage points. That just doesn’t happen. We have all seen that in order to get stage points in the first round, you have to qualify up front. Qualifying up front comes from executing qualifying well on Friday and having a fast race car. So then once the race plays out, you have ot have a good car, run up front and you do have to make an effort to rack up those stage points. I think where you see it make the biggest difference is at the restrictor plate races. In the past we would kind of log laps and ride around but you don’t see that anymore. You see us really racing hard and trying to put ourselves in position for the end of that stage to get those stage points. That is where I have noticed the biggest difference. Everywhere else, we race hard from the drop of the green flag no matter what. We do recognize that those stage points add up and those bonus points for winning a race and all of that add up but don’t think that just because they are giving three bonus points for the playoffs if you win a race is all of a sudden the extra motivation you need to win. There is a trophy at hand, a lot of money at hand and the pride of going and winning races. I think from that aspect, nothing has changed.”

YOU HAVE BEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA A LOT MORE LATELY. “Yeah, just the level of excitement going into this season. Everything is new. It is a breath of fresh air and reinvigorating. From that standpoint, I want that to show. The social media side has been an outlet for me to be able to kind of let fans in behind the scenes and see what is going on from the shop and just all the processes we go through to get ready for the season. Plus, just having a really great PR and marketing team there at SHR with True Speed Communication and having them help facilitate that. For them to be able to gather the content and help me to grow our social media presence.”

DO YOU HAVE ANY TANGIBLE EXPECTATIONS FOR YOURSELF THIS YEAR? “I don’t want to put any real hard number out there to say we have to do this or it will be a terrible year or if we don’t at least accomplish this that it will be a disappointment. What I am looking forward to is just every single Thursday that I go get on an airplane to go to the next race track, having a high level of expectation of going out and performing well and running up front. That is what I am most fired up about. I think for the last six seasons I have gone and gotten on an airplane and went to the race track thinking, ‘Man, if we run top-15 this weekend we will have a good weekend.’ That is a complete shift in mindset when you go to the airplane on Thursday with your crew guys to go to whatever track you are going to and saying, ‘Man, if we go and execute and do everything right we can go win this weekend.’ I think that just has me more fired up than ever. Just because, that is what we all want to do. Nobody wants to be average. Everybody wants to be exceptional. Having that opportunity to go out and be exceptional is exciting.”

HAVE YOU SEEN YOUR TEAM PERFORM THE FIVE-MAN PIT STOP? “I am going to see it tomorrow for the first time. I am going to hang out at pit practice tomorrow and drive the pit practice car so tomorrow will be my first experience seeing it.”

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT THIS YEAR THAT MAYBE YOU ARE ABLE TO DO GIVEN THE SIZE AND DEPTH OF STEWART-HAAS THAT MAYBE YOU COULDN’T DO AT PREVIOUS TEAMS YOU WORKED WITH? “Just show up to the track and be competitive. Have speed. We have struggled with that the last six seasons. We have had weekends where we have had success and we have had weekends where we have run up front and we have won a race and I am so grateful to have had that opportunity and to get my first win in the Cup series and be the one guy that got the 43 car back to victory lane from such a long hiatus of winning a race. To have that opportunity and to be that guy, I am really grateful but the reality was that the speed was just not there on a regular basis. We did not have cars capable of running in the top-10 or top-five or challenging for wins regularly. I feel like that opportunity is staring me in the face right now.”

YOU HAD A CHANCE TO DRIVE FOR RICHARD PETTY AND NOW YOU DRIVE FOR TONY STEWART. WHAT IS THAT LIKE? “I think when you look at both drivers, both are very accomplished. Richard Petty being the king of NASCAR and all that he has accomplished. We don’t have to go into that. Everybody knows. Then Tony Stewart being a racer at heart. Three-time Cup champion. Has won at every level of everything he has ever driven from dirt cars to IndyCar to Cup cars. When you look at Tony Stewart, he is the epitome of a true die hard racer. I think there is a lot of similarity but some differences too. I think the one thing that probably stands out the most that is drastically different is that Tony is more relevant. The last time Richard Petty drove a stock car was in 1992. A lot has changed since then. Where Tony has just been out of the car a couple of years. He is really a lot more in tune with what is going on with the setups and engineering and stuff behind the race cars compared to where Richard was.”

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR DARRELL WALLACE JR. AS HE PREPARES TO CLIMB IN THAT 43 CAR? “Don’t screw up. The King will put his finger in your chest. He has very high expectations and wants the best. While he has been incredible for me and my family, it is sometimes hard to measure up because everywhere you go, Richard Petty has done something extraordinary at that race track or venue. You look at a guy that has won 15 times at Martinsville. So everytime you show up at Martinsville you have to hear about that and see how you stack up. All of those things.  You are constantly being compared to The King and that is tough to live up to.”