By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into February’s running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: 13th overall, ninth full time season
Career Wins: Two
After a career year in 2018, Aric Almirola and Stewart-Haas Racing regressed a bit last season. Despite Almirola and two of his teammates making it into the Playoffs, things didn’t turn out as they would have hoped.
The Tampa, Florida native was able to score three top-five finishes, 12 top-10 finishes, one pole, 180 laps led, and an average finish of 15.4 over the course of the season, but only made it through the first round of the Playoffs before being eliminated. Almirola ultimately finished 14th in the final season standings.
Late last season, it was announced that Almirola would return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2020 with Smithfield as a sponsor. The upcoming season will be the third for Almirola piloting the No. 10 Ford Mustang at SHR.
“Aric is one of the most focused and determined drivers I’ve ever met, and he’s got the skills to match,” said Stewart-Haas co-owner Tony Stewart. “He’s taken the opportunity here at SHR and seized it. Keeping him as the driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang was a priority and we’re very happy to have it continue.”
Heading into the 2020 campaign, the only major change for Almirola comes atop the pit box, with the team undergoing a crew chief shakeup over the off-season. John Klausmeier, who has served as Almirola’s crew chief since he joined the organization, will move over to the No. 14 team, with Mike Bugarewicz assuming crew chief duties for the No. 10 team.
Since taking over the crew chief role of the No. 14 team in 2016, Bugarewicz led his drivers (Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer) to three wins, as well as a scoring 47 top-10 finishes and two Playoff appearances over the past three years.
“Our biggest asset at Stewart-Haas Racing is our people, and we strive to put each person in the best position to succeed,” said Greg Zipadelli, Vice President of Competition, SHR. “Our driver/crew chief pairings for next season reflect this ideology, and we believe this lineup provides the best opportunity to win every time we unload our Ford Mustangs at the racetrack.”
With a year under their belt with the new aero package that rolled out last season, Stewart-Haas Racing should be able to hit the ground running at Daytona and be in the mix all the way down the stretch.
The biggest question is which of the organization’s four cars will be the most successful and whether Almirola can reclaim his success from two years ago that brought him to the Round of 8 in the Playoffs and a fifth place points finish – his best result to date.