Aric Almirola will get a third season with Stewart-Haas Racing after it was announced Thursday he and sponsor Smithfield have extended their deals. In the news release sent by the team, co-owner Tony Stewart, who has been supportive of Almirola since the day it was announced he was joining SHR, said the driver had “seized” his opportunity.
In his first two seasons, Almirola has qualified for the playoffs. Unsurprisingly, 2018 was a career year for Almirola in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series across all statistical categories. He finished fifth in the points standings after making it to the third round of the postseason.
“As a competitor, you always strive for more,” Almirola said Friday morning at Talladega Superspeedway when asked if he feels he’s been getting everything expected as an SHR driver. “That’s just part of the nature of the beast. I think probably with your job you still want to accomplish and do more, right? Nobody is just satisfied with the status quo. I think that’s across the board for race car drivers to journalists to anybody else; you always want to achieve and accomplish more. If not, then go find something else to do.
“For me, I’ve been excited and happy with the results that we have achieved. Last year was a great year for us for it to be my first year with the company, have the success that we did, and to finish fifth in the point standings – that was really, really good, and something that we were very excited about. Then obviously take that, and we set the bar a little bit higher, and this year we haven’t achieved those similar results. We haven’t had the year that we had last year, and that’s just part of the sport.”
In further making his point about the ups and downs experienced in NASCAR, Almirola pointed to seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson not making the playoffs when many considered him a guarantee. Or Joey Logano going from missing the playoffs in 2017 and coming back to win the ’18 title
“So last year was a good year for us,” he said. “This year has been an OK year, but certainly not the year that we had hoped or wanted.”
Unlike a year ago, Almirola and the No. 10 team didn’t have an extended stay in the postseason as he was eliminated from title contention two weeks ago at Charlotte. In the regular season, he earned 10 top-10 finishes, and has failed to score one since Daytona in July.
“We’re looking forward,” Almirola said. “We’re gonna continue to strive for more success, that’s what we do as competitors and as human begins. You want to continue to move the needle.”
In 66 races with SHR, Almirola has just one win. Kurt Busch, who has moved on, won once last year. Clint Bowyer has two wins in the previous 66 races, while Kevin Harvick has 11 wins in this same period. Almirola, Bowyer, and newcomer Daniel Suarez have yet to reach victory lane this season.
“I think it comes with time, I think it’s just part of it,” said Almirola of his lone victory with SHR. “It’s hard. If it was easy, everybody would do it; it’s not easy. There’s nothing given to you, you have to earn it.
“Last year, we were in position to win several races and we capitalized on one, and this year we quite honestly just haven’t been in position to win as many races.”
Almirola is the defending race winner at Talladega where the Cup Series competes this weekend.