By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
One of the worst kept big ‘secrets’ is finally out. Stewart Haas Racing confirmed Aric Almirola would take the wheel of their No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Smithfield will adorn Almirola’s No. 10 for the entire season.
This will not be the first time that Almirola will have been paired with team co-owner Tony Stewart. The duo were teammates for a time at Joe Gibbs Racing. Almirola ran in late models, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and eventually the NASCAR Xfinity Series while Stewart ran in the Cup Series, mentoring the young driver. However, this will be the first time that Almirola will be in ‘top notch’ equipment at NASCAR’s highest level.
Almirola said things just worked out in his favor,
“They (Smithfield) made their decision regardless of what I was going to do. I had been talking to Tony for a long time. Many, many years about having an opportunity here. Things just worked out and came together. They (Stewart Haas) needed a driver, and I was available. It was pretty much just luck. It’s crazy how things happen sometimes. I’m just really fortunate how things worked out, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Now here I am with the opportunity of a lifetime.”
To date, Almirola has just one career victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, in the Coke Zero 400 in 2014. With just 11 top-fives, 31 top-10s, and one pole position in 242 career starts to his name, he will now join a team that has won two championships in the past six years.
Almirola also has three victories, 12 top-fives, 37 top-10s, and five pole positions in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Two of those victories (Daytona 2016 and Talladega 2017) came with Biagi-DenBeste Racing, a team that will partner with Stewart Haas Racing in 2018. Although, it was Almirola’s first victory in 2007 at the Milwaukee Mile that stood out to team co-owner Tony Stewart. After starting on the pole and leading 58 straight laps, he was forced out of the car. Denny Hamlin went on to take the victory which is credited to Almirola as he started the race.
Stewart was quick not to let anyone forget about Almirola’s performance that day,
“I want to make sure they haven’t forgotten about that because Aric dominated that race and then had to get pulled out early, but the important part that was kind of overlooked was here’s a guy that didn’t have a lot of time in an XFINITY car that qualified on the pole and had led every lap of the race and not just led it, but dominated it at that point. I think a lot of people have forgotten that about Aric and how much talent he really has, and that’s something I’ve never forgotten. I’ve always had that in my mind. Like I said, he’s a great friend of mine and I knew that if we had the right opportunity to get him in the system that I think we can do great things together. That time is now and we’re excited to finally give him that opportunity to showcase his talent.”
For now, Almirola will finish out the season with his current team, Richard Petty Motorsports, before moving on to an opportunity that at one time, he could only dream of.