Ahead of this year’s Daytona 500, Aric Almirola was among the pre-race favorites to win the Harley J. Earl Trophy. But less than 15 laps in, his race went awry, and the No. 10 team hasn’t been able to get on the right track since.
“It’s a character building year, and we are building lots of character,” Almirola recently told NASCAR.com of his season. “That’s exactly how I would describe it.”
While running at the front of the field in The Great American Race, Christopher Bell gave Almirola a great push down the backstretch. That shove turned the No. 10 Ford sideways, triggering the “Big One” with 16 cars receiving some sort of damage.
Believing he had one of the best cars in that race (Almirola dominated the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel three nights prior by leading 52 of 60 laps), there was no sugarcoating it — it was disappointing to be out of the race early. Devastating at that.
The following week at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course, Almirola was having a respectable run when he went for a late-race spin. Ultimately, he rebounded to take the checkered flag in 17th.
To round out the Florida swing, Almirola’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway went downhill on Lap 201, when he got tight underneath Ryan Blaney, putting both cars in the fence. End result: 30th.
Most recently, Almirola was running in the mid-20s at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and then an incident occurred during the final stage. A piece of debris flew up into the left front of Almirola’s Ford and got sandwiched between the wheel and the brake caliper. Come the next corner, the No. 10 car was in the wall with a flat left front tire, ending the day 38th.
But even before the incident, Vegas wasn’t a stellar run for Almirola, or Stewart-Haas Racing as a whole, with Kevin Harvick leading the brigade in 20th.
“Of course I was surprised by (the way we ran),” Almirola said. “That’s been one of the things we’ve excelled at — mile and a half race tracks — especially with this 550 (horsepower) package. Those types of races are places where we’ve excelled and run very well. …
“Going to Vegas, I had a lot of high hopes and we were — overall as a company — scratching our heads, trying to figure out why we underperformed there.”
According to Almirola, it was an abnormal day by Stewart-Haas Racing standards.
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“We’re way too good of a race team to run like that, and we all know that,” Almirola said. “There’s a lot of eyes on a lot of different parts of our race team and our race cars, engineers digging in and looking at what happened and answering those questions, trying to produce immediate results because that can’t and won’t be the norm. I promise you that.”
But even with moderate speed, Almirola has an average finish of just 29.8 through the first four events.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a patch of races like this in my whole entire career,” Almirola said. “I know I’ve never started a season like this. I know for a fact I’ve never started the season with this many poor finishes.
“It’s not a situation I want to be in. It’s uncomfortable. It doesn’t feel good.”
Almirola still believes his No. 10 team is “great.” So even though he’s 28th in points, 49 markers below the cutoff, it’s not a cause for concern just yet.
“We’ve got a lot of fight in us and I’m not a quitter,” he said. “I’m not going to give up, I’m not going to quit, and we’re going to keep fighting. I can assure you we won’t consistently run like this; eventually we’ll get it turned around and capitalize on those moments.”
With the season still young, Almirola believes looking at points isn’t a true indicator of how the team is; as drivers can move up and down the “ladder” quickly. In fact, he said he hasn’t looked at points once.
The primary focus is to get the cars better.
“At this point, I don’t even care (about points),” Almirola said. “I know it’s bad. I know we have very little and I know we’re not in a good position. All that really matters for us is trying to get our cars competitive and trying to get speed in our cars to where we can go run up front. Because if you run up front you’re going to score points.”
Once the end of April and beginning of May comes around, Almirola will begin to look at points more closely. From there, he will be able to measure who the No. 10 car is racing around and needs to beat for the remainder of the regular season.
His next opportunity at a good run is this weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Over the past seven races in the Arizona sun, Almirola has earned five top-10 finishes, including a pair of top fives.
The goal is simple: Have a solid run to get back on track.
“At this point, I don’t think we need to throw a Hail Mary,” he said. “We’re not in a situation where we need to go do whatever it takes to win; we’re in a situation where we just need a good day.”
Knowing the deficit the team faces, Almirola said he needs to “persevere,” a term he brought to Twitter earlier this week to remind himself that the team is going to continue to fight.