Another name has been erased from the Silly Season topic for the 2021 NASCAR season. That name is Aric Almirola, who will return as driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang along with primary sponsor, Smithfield Foods, next season.
In addition to Almirola’s return to SHR, Smithfield has also inked an extension to remain as a primary partner of Almirola with the team for an unknown number of races. The 2021 Cup season will mark the fourth season where Almirola and Smithfield (partners since 2012) will be competing underneath the Stewart-Haas Racing banner in the Cup level.
“He’s done a really good job, him and [crew chief] Mike [Bugarewicz], of growing together as a team and figuring out what he likes,” Greg Zipadelli, Vice President of Competition for SHR and former championship-winning crew chief, said during a Monday teleconference. “Buga has done a great job at that, but it’s time to go. They’ve been picking up and building their confidence and I feel like they’re ready, they just have to go out and execute. When you go back through and you look at the top fives and top 10s he’s had all year, I don’t know if a single one of them was just a good, clean race. They’ve had issues. Pit crews, restarts, speeding on pit road – things of that nature that have made him go to the back and have to race to the front. If we can clean all of those things up and not make any mistakes, I think he’ll have a good opportunity.”
Thus far, Almirola is coming off a strong 26-race regular-season stretch, where he has recorded two stage victories, five top-five results and 14 top-10 results. Since Homestead-Miami Speedway in June through the Michigan International Speedway doubleheaders in August, he recorded 10 top-10 results in 11 starts, all of which stabilized himself and his No. 10 Ford team inside the top 10 in the regular-season standings.
Almirola is one of 16 Cup competitors that have qualified for this year’s Playoffs (along with SHR teammates Clint Bowyer, Cole Custer and Kevin Harvick) and is set to embark on a 10-race postseason battle for this year’s championship. He is slated in a three-way tie with Austin Dillon and Cole Custer for 10th place in the standings with 2,005 points and with the 2020 Cup Playoffs five days away from commencing at Darlington Raceway.
From 2007 to 2017, Almirola competed for a number of teams, which include Joe Gibbs Racing, Dale Earnhardt Inc., Phoenix Racing, Billy Ballew Motorsports, JR Motorsports and Richard Petty Motorsports, before he made the move to Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2018 season to pilot the No. 10 Smithfield Ford. Since joining the team, Almirola has recorded one victory, which occurred at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2018 following a pass on the final lap. In addition, he has earned five stage wins, 12 top-five results and 43 top-10 results in 98 starts with SHR. He has also led a total of 648 laps and has made the Playoffs throughout his current three-year run with the team. His best result in the standings with the team was fifth place in 2018, where he also recorded his best average result of 12.8. He worked with crew chief Johnny Klausmeier in 2018 and 2019 before being paired with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz for this season.
With his racing plans for next season confirmed and secured, Aric Almirola’s quest for his first Cup title begins on Sunday, September 6, at Darlington Raceway for the Cook Out Southern 500, which will air at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.