Aric Almirola projected the right attitude about doing his part to contribute to a championship-winning organization. And when pressed about the pressure he’ll feel to perform, Almirola didn’t hesitate in saying he welcomes it.
By joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018, the 33-year-old Almirola has all the resources at his disposal to succeed. Driving the No. 10 Smithfield Ford is arguably the best opportunity he has had in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Does that mean Almirola has to put up or shut up?
“Yes and no. I’ve got to go out and perform, but I think that speaks for itself, right?” Almirola told RACER. “All their other cars perform, so I expect to be on par with my teammates and if I’m not, then there’s a problem. So, I welcome that pressure, I welcome that opportunity. If there wasn’t pressure that means that I’m just riding around and I don’t want to do that, that’s not who I am.
“I’m a competitive person and I want to go run up front and have a chance to win races on a regular basis, and I want to compete for a championship someday. This is that opportunity. This gives me that chance and I couldn’t be [prouder] and more excited to represent Smithfield and everybody here at Stewart-Haas Racing on the racetrack.”
Team co-owner Tony Stewart says Almirola doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone.
“I really believe that he’s a much more talented racecar driver than everybody gives him credit for,” Stewart told RACER.
A three-time Cup Series champion, Stewart made it well known during Wednesday’s announcement he not only believes in Almirola but thought the driver proved himself many years ago in a Xfinity Series race for Joe Gibbs Racing at Milwaukee.
In 242 career starts in the premier series, Almirola has one career win. A rain-shortened victory at Daytona International Speedway in July 2014 qualified Almirola for the postseason, which he turned into a career-best points finish (16th).
Two of Almirola’s teammates next season, Kevin Harvick and – presumably – Kurt Busch, are former champions. Harvick, Busch and SHR teammate Clint Bowyer all have multiple wins in addition to multiple appearances in the playoffs.
“We’ve never had a driver come to SHR that’s had that kind of pressure put on them. It’s not about that,” Stewart said of Almirola having to sink or swim. “When we sign somebody, we have the confidence in their ability that they can get the job done. It’s up to us to make sure we give them the tools and the equipment to do that. So, we’re in it together.”
In 212 starts with Richard Petty Motorsports, Almirola has 30 top-10 finishes and 120 laps led. At Stewart-Haas, performing at a championship-caliber level is second nature and expected. The organization has two championships in the last six years with 39 victories in 964 starts.
The expectation will be for Almirola to do his part – something he’s more than ready to do and what Stewart believes he will.
Yet while neither say it’s now or never for Almirola, he might end up proving that anyway.
“We’re as much a piece of that equation of him getting to Victory Lane as he is, so it’s about putting a package together with a driver, crew chief and all those variables to make that happen,” Stewart continued. “And that’s our responsibility as much as his. When we make that commitment to him and he makes that commitment to us, we’re in it together.”