News & Media

Spotlight: Almirola seeking consistency for No. 88 program

May 11, 2011, David Caraviello,

For Aric Almirola, the goal these days is all about consistency. Not just consistency in high finishes to mount a challenge for the Nationwide Series championship, but consistency for a No. 88 program that had very little of it a season ago.

Almirola was one of 10 different drivers to pilot the JR Motorsports entry last year, when the ride became a revolving door after Brad Keselowski left it to move up to the Sprint Cup level with Penske Racing. Now Almirola has the vehicle all to himself, and is trying to restore some of the glory the No. 88 experienced under Keselowski, who won four times with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s flagship Nationwide program in 2009.

"I think it's important for these guys, myself included, to have stability. Not only with the sponsors, but with all the guys on the team and everything," said Almirola, a 27-year-old native of Tampa, Fla. "That way, you're not trying to figure something different out every week with somebody new in the seat. I'm very appreciative of the opportunity I got. I want to make the most of it."

Kelly Bires was supposed to be Keselowski's heir in the No. 88, in late 2009 signing a two-year contract to drive the vehicle. But just five races into the 2010 season, he was released due to what the team called chemistry issues. The remainder of the year was filled out by a litany of drivers, including Almirola, who wheeled it in seven events. Jamie McMurray, Elliott Sadler, Steve Arpin, Coleman Pressley, Ron Fellows, Greg Sacks, Josh Wise and Earnhardt himself also took turns in the seat.

"Especially with the old car, they had a really good foundation of what it took to be fast. So it wasn't too crazy," Almirola said of the constant driver swapping. "They had a really good understanding of the old car, and what they needed to go to the race track and be fast. I didn't notice much difference when I was or wasn't in the car. I felt like every time I got in the car, we were a top-five car and could run really good. I didn't notice much difference, but I'm happy we're not doing that this year, and I'm happy I'm the guy behind the wheel every race."

Now the car belongs solely to Almirola, who was the runner-up to Todd Bodine in the Camping World Truck Series last year. Prior to Saturday's crash-induced 28th-place result at Darlington, he had recorded four top-10 finishes, and heads to Dover International Speedway this weekend firmly among the contenders for the Nationwide crown. The real breakthrough, though, came in a finish that on the results sheet, appears mediocre -- a 14th-place run April 29 at Richmond, where Almirola led seven laps, stood second with seven to go, and was in the mix for the victory until he ran out of gas and incurred penalties entering and leaving pit road.

That night, Almirola believes, is when his program turned the corner, from one that produced consistent top-10 cars to one that could run in the top five.

"We have great equipment, we have all the right pieces and stuff, so it's just a matter of getting them all to work together," he said. "That's the hardest part. The difference between winning and running second is something little. The difference between winning and running fifth is a couple of little things. It just takes a little bit to be off, and know you're racing for 10th. We've been fine-tuning on the little things, and not getting carried away making wholesale changes, and we've gotten a lot better."

He didn't have much of a chance to build on that Richmond showing at Darlington, where he was running eighth immediately before the multi-car accident sparked when he was clipped by Clint Bowyer. Dover brings another opportunity to regain that higher level of consistency the No. 88 team is looking for.

"We've been consistent, but we've been a consistent seventh- to 12th-place car. We really want to be better than that," Almirola said. "We feel like at Richmond we turned a corner and got our car better. We were consistent, but we were a consistent top-five car. ... That's really where we want to be. If we can run every week like we ran at Richmond, I would say we'd be a threat to win races."