Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Saturday Martinsville Notebook

By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

Aric Almirola announces retirement from full-time NASCAR Cup racing

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – At roughly 9 o’clock on Saturday morning, readers of the “X” app got the long-awaited answer to Aric Almirola’s plans for 2024—a partial answer, at least.

Almirola announced his retirement from full-time NASCAR Cup Series racing, indicating he will not be back in the No. 10 Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing next year.

“After much prayer, consideration and conversations with my family, I’m ready for the next adventure,” Almirola posted, along with expressions of gratitude to Stewart-Haas and sponsor Smithfield Foods, which has decided to end its commitment to NASCAR racing at the end of the season.

Almirola achieved two of his three NASCAR Cup Series victories with Stewart-Haas, at Talladega in 2018 and at New Hampshire in 2021. His other Cup win came in a rain-shortened race at Daytona for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2014.

Though Almirola said later on Saturday in the Martinsville Speedway media center that he’s seeking a more equitable work/life balance, he didn’t rule out racing on a more limited basis next year and beyond.

“I still would like to scratch the itch,” said the 39-year-old driver. “I don’t know what that looks like. I still want to late-model race. If there’s an opportunity to run an asphalt pavement, a late model race or a dirt-late model race—a truck race or an Xfinity race, something like that, or even a one-off Cup race here and there, I would enjoy that.

“But doing it 38 weeks out of the year is a grind. I’m not complaining, because I signed up for it, and I loved it, and it’s afforded our family a wonderful, wonderful life. But I’m ready to just create a little bit better work/life balance as I go forward.”

Almirola didn’t provide any specifics about his future plans, and Stewart-Haas is now tasked with finding a driver and sponsor for the No. 10 Ford.

Tyler Reddick says strategic adjustments may become necessary on Sunday

Entering Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway 10 points below the current cutoff for the Championship 4, Tyler Reddick’s path to the title race is arguably more complex than that of any other competitor.

Stage points could play an important role in Reddick’s fortunes as he tries to overtake Ryan Blaney, who holds the last Playoff-eligible position. Then again, a variety of circumstances could force Reddick to win the event in order to advance.

Initially, Reddick expects to approach the race the way he would any other.

“It’s straightforward,” Reddick said. “It’s a normal race weekend, honestly. Our (purpose) here in practice is to get a good feel in our race car and understand what we need to do, if anything. Hopefully, we don’t have to do anything to it for qualifying and just go out there and execute the qualifying lap just like any weekend.”

If a must-win situation develops, however, Reddick needs to be prepared to make adjustments.

“Typically, the way this race plays out, there’s really only been a couple guys that have gotten really crazy with strategy to flip their track position,” Reddick said. “I don’t anticipate a lot of odd-placed cautions, but if they do happen, it’s something we’ll have to weigh in our minds.

“But if we’re at the front of the field like we plan on being, like we’re shooting for, we’re at the front of whatever strategy we want to be on. It’ll just give us more options if that arises. If it comes down to the end of the race, and you’ve got to get a couple spots, you’ve got to be aggressive.

“Your whole year’s on the line, right?”

Qualifying, however, didn’t work out the way Reddick had hoped. He spun in Turn 4 on his second lap in the first round and will start 19th on Sunday—with lot of work to do to keep his championship aspirations alive.

There’s no secrecy between teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing

In all likelihood, Martin Truex Jr. must reverse his recent fortunes—or misfortunes, more precisely—and win Sunday’s Xfinity 500 to advance to the Nov. 6 Championship 4 race at Phoenix Raceway.

Denny Hamlin, Truex’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, faces the exact same challenge. Each driver trails fourth-place Ryan Blaney by 17 points and third-place William Byron by 37.

With two Championship 4 spots already claimed by Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, thanks to their respective victories at Las Vegas and Homestead, and Byron likely to advance on points, Truex and Hamlin could be battling each other for a win at Martinsville and the final Championship 4 berth.

Under the circumstances, you might expect their teams to adopt a secretive mode as they try to gain an upper hand, but Truex says that’s not the case.

“Nothing really changes,” Truex said Saturday before winning the pole for Sunday’s race at the 0.526-mile short track. “We race just like we do every other week. We will go with what got us here. Being in the Playoffs as teammates for so many years, we have that experience, and we know what got us here and things that make us strong as a group.

“Then you go on Sunday and race. You don’t hide things, you don’t try to do anything different. At least that has been my experience in the past on how we’ve handled it, and so far, nothing that I’ve seen has been different.” 

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