One of the worst-kept secrets in NASCAR was finally revealed on Wednesday morning. Aric Almirola will drive the #10 Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018.
“I’ve known Aric since 2004 and have always been impressed with him on the racetrack,” team owner Tony Stewart stated. “I’ve raced with him and seen him mature into a really good racecar driver. He can compete for wins here at Stewart-Haas Racing and help our other drivers compete for wins. He’s an excellent fit for this team and for Smithfield.”
For the last six seasons, Almirola has driven the #43 for Richard Petty Motorsports, winning one race (the rain-shortened 2014 Coke Zero 400), recording 30 top-ten finishes, and one pole (2012 Coca-Cola 600). In 2017, he missed seven races after breaking his back in a crash at Kansas Speedway in May; he is currently 29th in points with five top tens, three top fives, and a best finish of 4th at the Daytona 500 and Talladega’s GEICO 500.
“This is the opportunity every racer wants,” Almirola commented. “Stewart-Haas Racing is an experienced organization with a lot of depth, great technical support from Ford, and staffed with racers from top to bottom. They lean on each other, challenge each other and make each other better. I’m really looking forward to being a part of that.”
In September, RPM sponsor Smithfield Foods announced plans to move to SHR for the 2018 season. Danica Patrick, who drives the #10, was subsequently declared out of the car for 2017, while Almirola also confirmed his departure from RPM. With the two rides being opened, speculation quickly pointed to Almirola taking over the #10, though no news were released for nearly two months. Darrell Wallace Jr., who filled in for Almirola in four races this year, was later announced as his successor in the #43.
“This is a great moment for Aric, and Smithfield is very happy to be a part of it because it’s a great opportunity for our company,” Smithfield Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing John Pauley added. “Obviously, we strongly believe in Aric’s ability and that of Stewart-Haas Racing, and those abilities transcend the racetrack. They want to consistently run up front and contend for wins, but they’re also very interested in helping us win in the marketplace. This is a strong partnership with outgoing personalities who are driven to succeed.”
Like Stewart, Almirola was a Joe Gibbs Racing driver, joining the team in 2004 as one of the first members of JGR’s diversity program. The Florida native ran part-time in the NASCAR Busch (now Xfinity) Series for the team in 2006 and 2007, winning one race at Milwaukee under controversial circumstances when he was replaced by Denny Hamlin midrace despite running well in the event. From 2008 to 2009, he bounced between various teams across the three national series before settling in the Camping World Truck Series with Billy Ballew Motorsports for the 2010 season; he finished 2nd in points to Todd Bodine with two wins (Dover and Michigan) and a 13-race streak in which he finished in the top ten. He moved up to the Nationwide Series in 2011 with JR Motorsports and recorded 18 top tens en route to a 4th-place points finish before joining RPM in 2012.
Almirola’s first race with his new team will be the 2018 Daytona 500 on February 18.
Featured image by Russell LaBounty, NKP