CONCORD, N.C. – Aric Almirola will make his eighth start at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway this weekend in the No. 43 Smithfield Ford. Almirola posted his best finish of eighth at the .53-mile short track in 2008. Sitting 10th in points, the No. 43 Smithfield Ford teams looks for another solid finish in the Sprint Cup Series’ fourth race of the season.
Following Sprint Cup qualifying on Friday, Almirola will join Smithfield and Food City at Food City Race night in Hospitality Village in Turn Four to donate to a local charity through Smithfield’s initiative Helping Hungry Homes.
Highlights of Aric Almirola NASCAR Teleconference:
Aric, you ended last season on a strong note with two Top-10s in the last four races. Now three races into the season, you are tenth in points. What has made the biggest difference in your team’s continued success? Well, I think really just Todd Parrott and all the guys he has surrounding him. It’s the same group of guys we had in the last ten races of last year when our performance really elevated.
We have just really clicked, and our chemistry has been really strong. We have fast race cars every week, and right from the very get go, he’s understood me and I’ve understood him, and we just know how to get our cars where we want them throughout the weekend for the race.
So I’ve been real encouraged and I was really excited this whole off-season to get going this year because I knew what we were capable of after the last ten races of last year.
So I’ve always been excited to get going and get the season started but this year more than any other season, I’ve been really excited about our potential for success.
Curious where you felt like where your team was right now, tenth in points, two or three finishes between tenth and 20th, do you feel like a Top-10 team yet? I feel like we are right on the cusp of that.
When you really sit down and think about it, you look at the race teams that are on the racetrack, you’ve got four Hendrick Motorsports cars, and three Gibbs cars, and you know, the three Roush cars, two Penske cars. When you start looking at it, it’s like, man, there’s a lot of good teams really deep into the field, and you have three RCR cars, and then you throw Richard Petty Motorsports in the mix, and I feel like we are right there with those guys.
I feel like it would be crazy for us to think that as new as we are and the reality is that we don’t have the same amount of resources as some of the other teams — it would be crazy for us to think that we are a championship team at this moment.
But I do feel like we are on the cusp of being a consistent Top-10 team. You know, I felt like Phoenix was a bad day for us and I think we finished 15th, and then Vegas, we ran in the Top-12 all day and we ended up finishing 16th and we were disappointed again because we finished 16th. Like Phoenix, we raced up there in the lead or in second with Biffle, and I felt like that’s where we belong.
I feel like we are a competitive race team and I feel like we can compete with these other teams. You know, I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do, which this 43 team with Todd Parrott and the guys that we have on our crew. They bring me fast cars to the racetrack, and they do a lot with probably a lot less than some of the other teams that we’re competing against.
So I’m just really proud of the effort that we have put in, and you know, I think we are picking right up where we left off at the end of 2012.
I wanted to ask, when you are trying to show how good you are, and obviously you’ve had some good runs this year, how do you guard against trying to push the car too hard to get top four, top five finishes; is that kind of a balance that you have to deal with there? Yeah, absolutely, especially at the beginning of the year. I made a few mistakes last year at the beginning of the year and we dug ourselves a hole in the points and we never recovered from it really. We spent the whole rest of the year clawing our way to get to 20th in points. And if you look at where we started, I think we finished Daytona in 33rd or something like that.
You know, I went into this year knowing that we were capable of running better, especially at the intermediate tracks and the mile-and-a-half tracks and stuff like that. So the big thing for me was the first few weeks of this year to not make any major mistakes.
I wanted to go out and have solid days, don’t get caught speeding on pit road, keep our track position all day and just race smart, and put ourselves in position to where here in the next few weeks, we can go compete and be a legitimate threat for trying to make the Chase. Right now, I know we are only three weeks into it, but myself and everybody on our race team feels like that’s a possibility.
We’ve just got to keep being smart and take what the races will give us. If we have got a tenth place car, we need to finish tenth with it. And if we’ve got a car capable of running in the Top-5, then we need to run in the Top-5 with it. But we can’t push too hard with it and make a mistake and finish 35th, because that would be really hard for us to rebound from.
From what you’ve seen of this race car, how do you think the racing will change at Bristol? Honestly I don’t know. I think it’s going to be more of what we’ve seen in the past. I think everybody is still trying to get a handle on this new car, so I can’t honestly say what it will do. But I have an opinion on what I think it will do.
I think we are going to see people running right up against the fence and I think you’re going to see people trying to slide-job each other and trying to make the bottom groove work.
I don’t know what the tire is to be honest with you, so I don’t know if Goodyear is bringing the same tire back that we ran last year or if they are bringing a newer, softer tire. But if we have a newer, softer tire, then the racing will change. But if we have the same tire as last year, I suspect that the racing will be the same.
What can you do with the shock and car preparation to make up the difference Yeah, and this is something that I’ve touched on before, and I mean it, is you know, like we said, we do have less resources. There is no doubt about that. We can’t hide from that. We understand that.
The only way to overcome that is to have great people and that’s what I feel like we have. We’ve got a great group of people here at Richard Petty Motorsports. We’ve got a lot of people that work really hard and work extremely long hours to make sure that our cars have every detail, every ‘i’ is dotted and every ‘t’ is crossed. That’s really what this car comes down to, being NASCAR has us in a pretty tight box with our rules. So it’s all about the little things. I feel like our race team does a great job of that.
Todd is probably one of the most detail-oriented people, crew chiefs, that I’ve ever met and he gets his guys to rally around him and pay attention and focus on the details. That’s one thing that I feel like we do a great job at, is our cars are very detailed and we take advantage of every single thing we can take advantage of.
What kind of role do you try to play at the shop? Just a motivator. You know, I’m actually at the shop right now.
But I come to the shop a couple days a week and just tell everybody thank you for all their hard work. I know these guys spend a lot of time away from their family. I’m sure a lot of them eat cold dinners because their families have already eaten and went to bed.
So I just try to make a presence here and make sure all the guys know that I appreciate their hard work, and just to keep them motivated and let them know that we can do this and we are going to do it and we are going to be successful and we are going to try to win some races. But it takes a lot of hard work and I appreciate their hard work.
Given the difficulty of the track, what would it mean to you to win at Darlington? Oh, man, that would be huge. Let alone the fact that it’s probably one of the biggest races in our industry, and not by pay or anything like that, but just by prestige.
The Southern 500 is a huge deal. It’s been a huge race to win for many, many years, dating all the way back to the beginning of NASCAR. That would be a huge race to win. And it would mean a lot to me and our race team and I think it would mean a lot to Richard Petty himself, too, just because of all the roots that he has in NASCAR and stuff like that.
I think it would be a really big deal for 43 to go to victory lane at Darlington, which is one of the first racetracks that we still go to.
Just trying it figure out, what’s the mentality of you as a driver coming in knowing that you’re now having better prepared race cars every week, and do you feel like you’re that much closer to your first win, and would it be a surprise to you yet? Yeah, I really do feel that way, and confidence is key. I know you guys talk about that all the time, and it’s hard to put your finger on how you get it, why you get it and stuff like that.
But you know, chemistry is a big deal and confidence is a big deal, and right now, I feel like we’ve got both of those things going. We show up to the racetrack and we expect to run in the Top-10. And you look at the race teams that compete and that consistently finish in the Top-10, the Top 15, eventually they win races, and we think the same thing.
We feel like if we continue to put ourselves in position to run in the Top-10 and be contenders, then that one day will come where things go our way and we’ve got a fast car and we get track position at the end of the race and we go out and win a race. That’s really what we’re focused on.
At the beginning of the year, we sat down and made a list of goals, and that is No. 1 on our list of goals is to put that 43 car back in victory lane.