By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
Friendship can be a very strong bond. Two people that know that very well are Stewart Haas Racing’s co-owner Tony Stewart, and the team’s newest acquisition starting in 2018, Aric Almirola. Almirola and Stewart have been competing together for years.
However, their careers have taken very different paths. Stewart won two championships with Joe Gibbs Racing before becoming an owner himself and winning a third Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship in 2011. Almirola, who was once a Joe Gibbs Racing development driver spent time driving for Billy Ballew Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Inc., JR Motorsports, James Finch before ultimately landing at Richard Petty Motorsports, a team he has been with full-time since 2012.
Although Almirola has driven for these powerhouse teams, unfortunately, they were not dominant teams during his tenure. At RPM, he has just one victory, which came in the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in 2014.
Stewart feels that Almirola is finally getting the opportunity he deserves,
“Aric has definitely paid his dues and proven in the past that I don’t think he ever got the right opportunity that was the right fit for him. I feel like this is the right opportunity. Like I said, we don’t put any more effort into him than we do with the other three cars. This is something that I have a personal attachment to because our relationship together, our past being teammates. I know that whenever we bring a new sponsor or a new driver that we’re excited about, but this has a personal attachment that makes it even stronger.”
While Almirola and Stewart competed against one another, Stewart came up on top in 108 out of 189 races. During that time, the duo’s stats differ dramatically. Stewart had six wins to Almirola’s one. Stewart also had nearly four times as many top-fives as Almirola, and over double the top-10s. However, both Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart Haas Racing were dominant teams compared Almirola’s team.
For now, while Stewart and Almirola prep for the 2018 season, they will also focus on the remaining races of the 2017 season.