Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Stewart-Haas Racing via Getty Images

2018 Cup Series Season Preview: Aric Almirola

By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer

Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the top-30 drivers in the series leading into next month’s 60th running of the Daytona 500.

Age: 33

Years in Cup: Six Full-Time, 244 Cup Series starts

Career Wins: 1 (2014 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway)

The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season will be one of change for Aric Almirola, as he will have a new team, crew chief and car number. Officially announced back in November, Almirola joins Stewart-Haas Racing and will pilot the team’s No. 10 Ford. In a year of change for the Tampa, Fla. native, one familiar sight will be long-time sponsor Smithfield, who continues their relationship with Almirola for the full season.

Almirola takes over for Danica Patrick, who recorded just seven top-10 results in 180 starts over five seasons in the SHR No. 10 car. In comparison, Almirola has recorded 11 top-five and 31 top-10 results over the course of 244 starts in the Cup Series, with 214 of them behind the wheel of the iconic No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports.

Excited was the word used repeatedly by Almirola during his press conference announcing the deal. Almirola’s relationship with team co-owner Tony Stewart goes back 14 years, to when he had the opportunity to compete for Joe Gibbs Racing as a diversity driver in their late model program.

“I just addressed the shop before coming in here and I told all the guys in the shop that I’m salivating,” Almirola said during the November press conference. “I watch their race cars every week and see how fast they are and see how competitive they are week in and week out and I’m so excited about this opportunity to get in this race car.

“I want to drive the fastest race cars and I don’t want to have an excuse that my equipment is not where it needs to be. This is that opportunity, so, yeah, absolutely, the pressure is on and I’m excited to accept that pressure because that means that I have the best team in the garage area, that means I have the fastest race cars and it’s about chemistry and it’s about me going out and doing my job.”

Almirola will look to build that chemistry with new crew chief John Klausmeier, who replaces Billy Scott on the No. 10 car. Klausmeier has been with the SHR organization since 2009 as a race engineer and does have a victory as a crew chief under his belt, winning at Pocono Raceway in 2016 while serving as the interim crew chief for Kurt Busch.

“I’m proud to have Aric Almirola as a part of our race team. He’s someone I’ve always been impressed with since we were teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing, and John Klausmeier is more than ready to be his crew chief,” said Stewart.

Almirola looks to rebound from a 2017 season in which he suffered a back injury after a devastating accident at Kansas Speedway in early May that resulted in being sidelined for seven races. It goes without saying this will be the most competitive equipment Almirola’s been in during his Cup Series career.

“I’ve had success at every other level that I’ve ever been in. I’ve won XFINITY races. I’ve won Truck races. I won Daytona in a Cup car, so I think, for me, I want to go win. I think anything short of winning and making the Playoffs would be a disappointment, but, at the same time, I think the competition is tough. I’m excited to be in the car. I know I keep saying I’m excited, but it’s because it’s true  I am beyond excited and I think that we can go out and contend for wins and make the Playoffs.”

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