A significant milestone is in the making for Aric Almirola, a two-time NASCAR Cup Series winner and driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing. By taking the green flag in this weekend’s Cup event at Texas Motor Speedway, Almirola will achieve his 350th career start in NASCAR’s premier series.
A native of Tampa, Florida, Almirola’s debut in NASCAR’s premier series occurred at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March 2007. By then, he made 10 career starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and 29 starts in the Truck Series. Driving the No. 80 Joe Gibbs Driven Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, Almirola started 31st and finished 41st in his Cup debut after being involved in an early accident.
Later in the 2007 season, Almirola transitioned from Joe Gibbs Racing to Dale Earnhardt Inc. and he piloted the No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet in five of the remaining 13 scheduled Cup races. His best result during his five-race stretch with DEI was 30th place, which occurred at Talladega Superspeedway in October.
In 2008, Almirola remained with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and served as a co-primary driver of the No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala along with veteran Mark Martin. Following the first four races of the season, Almirola made his first Cup start of the season at Bristol Motor Speedway in March, where he collected his first top-10 career finish in eighth place. He made 11 additional starts throughout the 2008 Cup season, where he collected two 13th-place results in the fall and led 53 laps at Martinsville Speedway in October before being shuffled back to a 20th-place result. He capped off the season by finishing in 35th place in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
Almirola started the 2009 season as a full-time Cup Series competitor of the No. 8 Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc. He started the season by finishing in 30th place in the Daytona 500 after being involved in two separate incidents. Following the first seven races of the season, however, Almirola’s full-time Cup ride with DEI came to an end due to sponsorship issues. He, ultimately, went on to compete in four Xfinity and 16 Truck Series races throughout the 2009 season.
For the 2010 season, Almirola started the season with plans of competing on a full-time basis in the Cup Series with Phoenix Racing while also racing in the Truck Series for Billy Ballew Motorsports. Following the first seven races of the season, where he failed to qualify for three and finished no higher than 39th, he parted ways with Phoenix Racing and competed the remainder of the season with Billy Ballew Motorsports in the Truck Series, where he went on to win his first two Truck career races and finish in second place in the final standings. He also competed in eight Xfinity races with JR Motorsports. In October, Almirola served as an interim competitor of the No. 9 Budweiser Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports at Martinsville after Kasey Kahne left RPM for Red Bull Racing. Almirola ended up competing in the final five Cup races of the season with RPM, where he notched a career-best fourth-place result in the season finale at Homestead in November.
After spending the 2011 season in the Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports, where he finished in fourth place in the final standings, Almirola returned to the Cup Series for the 2012 season as a full-time competitor of the iconic No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. Almirola started the 2012 season by finishing in 33rd place in the season-opening Daytona 500 after being involved in a late multi-car accident. His best result during the first nine races was an eighth-place result at Martinsville in April.
For the next scheduled race at Talladega Superspeedway, Almirola was paired with veteran Mike Ford, who replaced Greg Erwin. Finishing in 12th place at Talladega and in 19th place the following week at Darlington Raceway, Almirola captured his first Cup career pole for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Despite finishing in 16th place in the Coke 600, Almirola rebounded the following week at Dover International Speedway by finishing in sixth place.
From Pocono Raceway in June through Richmond Raceway in September, Almirola finished no higher than 17th place on the track. After missing the Playoffs, he was paired with veteran Todd Parrott for the upcoming race at Chicagoland Speedway. For the remaining 10 Cup races of the season, Almirola captured one top-five result, two top-10 results, a total of 72 laps led and a 20th-place result in the final standings.
Remaining with Richard Petty Motorsports for the 2013 Cup season, Almirola started the season by finishing 13th in the Daytona 500 before finishing 15th the following race at Phoenix Raceway. Following the first 10 Cup races of the season, he was coming off four consecutive top-10 results and was in eighth place in the regular-season standings. The consistency for Almirola and the No. 43 team, however, did not last for the remainder of the regular-season stretch, as he achieved only one top-five result and failed to make the Playoffs. He went on to conclude the 2013 season in 18th place in the final standings along with six top-10 results and a career-best average result of 18.8. Following the 2013 season, Almirola surpassed 100 career starts in NASCAR’s premier series.
Prior to the 2014 season, which marked Almirola’s third season with Richard Petty Motorsports, RPM announced a three-year contract extension for Almirola to remain as driver of the No. 43 Ford with Smithfield Foods and its brands serving as key primary sponsors. Almirola was also paired with crew chief Trent Owens.
Almirola started the 2014 season with a 39th-place result in the Daytona 500 after being involved in a late multi-car accident. Three races later, he captured his first top-three result in the Cup circuit after finishing in third place at Bristol Motor Speedway behind Roush Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Entering Daytona International Speedway in July, Almirola achieved one top-five result and three top-10 results, with an opportunity grab an upset victory and race his way into the 2014 Cup Playoffs. During the race, Almirola dodged two multi-car accidents and outlasted the field, including late challenges from Brian Vickers, Kurt Busch and Casey Mears, to retain the lead when the race was red-flagged and deemed official on Lap 112 due to rain, thus giving Almirola his first Cup career victory in his 125th series start. Almirola’s first Cup win marked the first win for the Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 car since 1999, which was last made by the late John Andretti. The victory also occurred 30 years to the day where Richard Petty recorded his unprecedented 200th and final NASCAR win at Daytona. With his victory, Almirola clinched a spot for the 2014 Cup Playoffs.
Following his upset victory at Daytona, Almirola recorded two top-10 results for the remaining eight regular-season races before entering the Playoffs and as one of 16 competitors with an opportunity to win the championship. Following finishes of 41st, sixth and 28th in the first three races of the Playoffs, Almirola was one of four competitors who were eliminated from title contention. Despite the early exit from title contention, he went on to finish the season in 16th place in the final standings and with a career-high seven top-10 results.
Determined to return to the Playoffs, Almirola started the 2015 Cup season with a 15th-place result in the Daytona 500 followed by an 11th-place run at Atlanta. Through 25 of the 26-race regular-season stretch, he achieved only one top-five result and 13 top-15 results. During the regular-season finale at Richmond in September, Almirola recorded a strong fourth-place result, but he missed the Playoffs by 17 points. He went on to record one additional top-five run and four top-10 results for the remaining 10 Playoff races before finishing in 17th place in the final standings. In addition, he achieved a career-best result of 17.9, compared to his average result of 21.4 in 2014 when he won a race and made the Playoffs.
Remaining with Richard Petty Motorsports for a fifth consecutive season, Almirola started the 2016 season with a 12th-place result in the Daytona 500. He finished in 15th place the following race at Atlanta despite being involved in a four-car wreck during overtime. Compared to his previous two seasons, the 2016 season was a down season for Almirola, who achieved only one top-10 result and an average result of 23.3 before concluding the season in 26th place in the final standings. Following the 2016 season, Almirola surpassed 200 Cup career starts.
Returning for a sixth full-time Cup season with RPM and with new full-time crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, Almirola started the season on a high note by finishing in fourth place in the Daytona 500. For the first 10 races of the season, he achieved three top-10 results, despite being penalized 35 points following the recent event at Talladega for a post-race infraction.
For the following race at Kansas Speedway, Almirola was involved in a late harrowing accident involving Danica Patrick and Joey Logano, where he could not slow his No. 43 Smithfield Ford in time and rammed into Logano at full speed as the rear end of Almirola’s car came off the ground amid a shower of sparks. Following the incident, where Logano and Patrick were able to emerge uninjured, Almirola had to be extricated from his car and placed on a stretcher, where he was airlifted to the University of Kansas Hospital. It was later determined that he had suffered a compression fracture of his T5 vertebrae. While Almirola spent time recovering from his injuries, he was absent for eight races, including the All-Star Open/Race weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. During his absence, Regan Smith, Bubba Wallace and Billy Johnson each took turns piloting the No. 43 Smithfield Ford.
In July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Almirola returned to the track and finished in 24th place. Despite missing the Playoffs, he remained in the No. 43 seat for the remaining 18 races of the season, where he collected three top-10 results and finished in 29th place in the final standings. He also recorded an average result of 18.8.
In September, two months before the season’s conclusion, Almirola and Smithfield Foods announced their departure from RPM at season’s end. Two months later, both announced that they will be joining Stewart-Haas Racing and the No. 10 Ford team led by Johnny Klausmeier for the 2018 Cup Series season.
Three months later, Almirola made his first Cup start with SHR in the 60th running of the Daytona 500. During the event, he ran consistently and was able to move into the lead over Denny Hamlin at the start of the final lap. Entering the backstretch, Almirola continued to lead, though he had Austin Dillon and Bubba Wallace closing in on him for the lead and the win. Entering Turn 3, however, Dillon made contact and turned Almirola, which sent Almirola’s No. 10 Ford into the outside wall and out of contention while Dillon went on to win. Instead of a possible trip to Victory Lane in one of NASCAR’s crown-jewel events, Almirola ended his race in 11th place and with a wrecked race car.
For the first 16 Cup races of the season, Almirola recorded seven top-10 results and 14 top-15 results, as he was also ranked in 10th place in the regular-season standings. He went on to record three additional top-10 results and secure a spot in the 2018 Playoffs based on points and following a strong consistent regular-season stretch with no victories.
Almirola opened his second appearance in the Playoffs as a title contender by finishing sixth at Las Vegas and in fifth at Richmond. Despite finishing in 19th place at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course, he was able to transfer into the Round of 12 in the Playoffs on a three-way tie-breaker along with Kyle Larson and over Jimmie Johnson.
After leading 64 laps and finishing 13th the following week at Dover due to being involved in a late multi-car incident, Almirola came into the following race at Talladega Superspeedway with a “Checkers or Wreckers” mindset. After spending the majority of the race running towards the front with his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, he capitalized on a late restart and with teammate Kurt Busch running out of fuel on the final lap to hold off teammate Clint Bowyer and capture his first elusive victory of the season. With his second Cup career win and first with SHR, Almirola transferred into the Round of 8 in the 2018 Cup Playoffs.
After finishing 10th the following week at Kansas, Almirola finished 11th, eighth and fourth in the Round of 8. Despite the results, he failed to advance to the Championship 4 round at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he finished ninth. Though he missed an opportunity to contend for his first Cup title, Almirola capped off a successful and productive 2018 season with SHR with a win, a career-high four top-five result, a career-high 17 top-10 results, a career-high 181 laps led and a career-best points result of fifth place.
With the 2018 season complete, Almirola approached the 2019 season with high aspirations of being a title threat and contending for wins, beginning with the 61st running of the Daytona 500. His season, however, started off on a low note when he was involved in a late multi-car accident and ended his run in 29th place. He rebounded the following six weeks by finishing in the top 10 in all of them.
Throughout the 26-race regular-season stretch, Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield/SHR team achieved 10 top-10 results, as Almirola qualified for his third Cup Playoffs as a title contender. After finishing 13th, 16th and 14th through the first three races of the Playoffs, however, he was eliminated from title contention. Unable to produce a late rally for this year’s title run, he went on to capture two top-five results, including a season-best second place behind teammate Kevin Harvick at Texas Motor Speedway in November, and conclude the season in 14th place in the final standings despite not winning once throughout the season. Following the 2019 season, Almirola surpassed 300 Cup career starts.
Almirola remained with SHR for the 2020 season, but was paired with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz while Johnny Klausmeier was reassigned. For the third consecutive year, Almirola’s season started off on a down note after he was involved in a late multi-car accident that took him out of contention of winning his first 500 title.
Following the first 11 Cup races of this season, Almirola achieved three top-10 results and was in 14th place in the regular-season standings. For the next scheduled race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Almirola and the No. 10 team began to turn the tide as they went on a nine-race stretch of finishing in the top five or top 10 on the track. After finishing in seventh place at New Hampshire in July, he was ranked in eighth place in the regular-season standings. Ultimately, he went on to record two additional top-10 results and secure a spot in this year’s Playoffs, which marked his fourth career appearance in the Playoffs as a title contender.
Entering the 2020 Cup Playoffs with momentum and high expectations, Almirola advanced into the Round of 12 after finishing ninth, eighth and fifth in the first round of the Playoffs spanning three races. His momentum, however, came to an end during the second round, where he finished 17th, 37th and 16th during the following three races and failed to advance to the Round of 8. He went on to finish in 13th place in last weekend’s event at Kansas.
Through October 2020, Almirola has achieved two Cup career victories, two poles, 24 top-five results and 78 top-10 results in 349 previous starts in the Cup circuit. He is set to remain with Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2021 Cup Series season.
Catch Almirola’s milestone start at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, October 25, at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.