NASCAR Cup Series
Almirola Pleased with Progress, Looks for More
By Matt Weaver – Aric Almirola is having a career-best campaign for Richard Petty Motorsports this season but feels as though he and teammate Marcos Ambrose were capable of so much more if not for a rash of bad luck.
Both drivers will be back at RPM next season and Almirola will look to finish the mission he started in the first half of this season by making his first Chase for the Championship.
Four DNFs derailed his title-contending plans for this season but Almirola is still excited for the rest of 2013, especially Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway. Almirola is an avid short track racing supporter and explained why similar events are needed in the Cup Series in an exclusive interview with Popular Speed.
His thoughts on short tracks, Late Model racing and his off-season plans can be found below.
Popular Speed: You guys have improved each season since moving to Ford and working with Roush — can that continue into next season?
Aric Almirola: That’s the plan. We’re real close on finishing everything. The continuity of keeping everything the same and working with this team and (crew chief) Todd Parrott will be a huge advantage. All the guys on this team do a good job and they understand these cars and what it takes to make them go faster.
We’re looking forward to building on that next year.
PS: Does RPM have a handle on the Gen-6 car now?
AA: Yeah, I think it’s been good. It’s been a work in progress for sure, for everybody. I feel like we came out a little slower than where we wanted to be but we got going pretty good after a month or so into the season and into the summer. But we kind of lost our edge a little bit after — the guys have been working really hard on getting that advantage back. We’ve been working with Roush and the guys from Ford to get things back on track and where we need to be.
I feel real good about the direction we’re headed and where we are as a program.
PS: How much of NASCAR is momentum and how much of it is week-to-week?
AA: It’s certainly about momentum. I’d say leading into Darlington we had four top-10s in a row and we had that bad night at Darlington and we kind of lost our momentum. Now we’ve got some of it back and it’s been week-to-week. We have fast cars — Todd has been bringing me real fast cars to the track. We’ve had silly things happen, like Pocono where we had a car capable of running in the top-10 and have a flat left-rear tire. We go to Bristol, run in the top-10 in the first half, pit for four tires, lose track position and get in someone else’s wreck. There’s just been so many things like that — things that are out of our control that have resulted in finishes that don’t reflect how well we’ve run.
PS: You were competing for a Chase spot earlier in the season. Will that sort of pressure benefit you next season, now knowing what that feels like?
AA: Yeah, absolutely. We’re certainly focused on this year still and we have some strong tracks coming up but I feel like this season has given me confidence that we can race with those top guys for a Chase spot.
PS: Richmond has been one of your better tracks, historically.
AA: Yeah, I think we finished eighth there earlier this year. I typically run well there in a Nationwide car too. It’s our home track, a home track for our sponsor Smithfield, right down the road in Smithfield, Virginia. So it’s always a big race when we go to Richmond and we always look to run well there for our sponsors.
PS: We’ve really decreased the number of true short tracks, like Richmond, at the Sprint Cup level. Would you like to run more of them and which tracks would you like to see added?
AA: Umm, I think it would be neat for us to go to Iowa. It’s a great race and they always put on a great show for Nationwide and a lot of fans always show up.
I was there for the inaugural Nationwide Series race and it was a packed house. So I think it would be good for us to get to some short tracks because we run a lot of mile-and-a-halfs.
PS: When you look at the success “The King” (Almirola’s car owner, Richard Petty) had on short tracks, are there any of those tracks, like North Wilkesboro or the Nashville Fairgrounds that you wish you could have raced on in the No. 43?
AA: There are a lot of tracks that I wish I could have raced on. In fact, I think we should go to a lot more tracks, and only visit each one once a year. When I was racing my Late Model, I really enjoyed showing up to a new race track that I haven’t been to, with the challenge or adapting to a new track. So there’s a lot of tracks that still want to knock off the bucket list.
PS: You were schedule to knock off one of those races, the Snowball Derby, but had to cancel because of a family emergency. Could we see you try to make it again this year?
AA: Yeah, I don’t know. We still got a lot going on with the family. It’s close to Christmas time and I don’t get to go down to Florida and spend a lot of time with the family. Usually I get to see them on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But the Snowball Derby is one that I would love to go down there and have a shot to win but the thing is that everything has to be right, the timing has to be right and I have to get my wife to sign off on it. I race 40 weeks out of the year and throwing one more race is kind of pushing my luck. (laughs)
PS: Beyond any possible off-season races, have you made any off-season plans?
AA: Just spending time with the family. We have a growing family and it’s been a lot of fun to watch my little boy growing up so I’m really looking forward to Christmas this year.