It’s been quite a week for Aric Almirola. An XFINITY Series victory, a solid top five in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and a heart-breaking penalty assessed by NASCAR’s rule’s police. Mix in a couple of appearances for Cup sponsor Smithfield Foods and that’s life as a professional race car driver. But, Aric is not just any driver. He sits behind the wheel of the Richard Petty Motorsports iconic number 43 NASCAR Ford Fusion. The Lasco Press was invited to sit down with Aric and discuss the upcoming Firekeeper’s Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Last Saturday, Almirola won the XFINITY Sparks Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway. Driving the Biagi DenBeste Racing Number 98 “Fresh From Florida” Ford, Almirola won for the first time at Talladega. His third victory in NASCAR’s XFINITY Series and first in 2017. “They let me run this thing seven or eight times a year and I have so much fun, especially at the speedway races.” Almirola scored the win in only his fourth start of the year. “Doug Yates brings some awesome horsepower and our Ford Mustang was super-fast. I knew it right from the beginning of practice.”
On Sunday Almirola was back in his full-time ride driving the Petty Blue Ford, also sponsored by “Fresh From Florida.” He followed up his Saturday win with a solid fourth place in Sunday’s Geico 500. The Petty driver’s second top 10 finish in 2 weeks moved him just outside of a possible playoff spot. With 16 available playoff positions, it’s likely three or four drivers will qualify on points. Almirola climbed to 17th, one point behind Trevor Bayne in 16th.
Unfortunately, the weekend’s momentum hit the skids with NASCAR’s announcement that the 43 had failed post-race inspection. The Laser Inspection System showed an out of tolerance condition with the rear axle placement on the race car. The rules allow for the specification to be within approximately one-eighth of an inch. Almirola’s car failed that test by 10/1000th of an inch. According to Aric, “Every team in the garage pushes the boundaries, NASCAR sets the rules and we have to abide by them. We take every available tolerance allowed to us and sometimes we go too far. NASCAR has to enforce those rules, I don’t envy their position. It was disappointing that we failed by such a small amount, but that’s the rules.”
Almirola went on to explain while avoiding the big wreck late in the race his car made wheel to wheel contact with another race car. In his opinion, the out of tolerance condition was a disadvantage to the car’s performance. But, the rules have no provision for taking circumstances into consideration. The penalty suspended Almirola’s crew chief, Drew Blickensderfer, for three races. Drew was also fined $65,000. But, in a more devastating punishment, Almirola had 35 points deducted from his season total. Dropping him from 17th to 20th and further away from the final playoff spot.
Next week the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series stops at Kansas Speedway for the Go Bowling 400 on Saturday night. Almirola is optimistic, “we run good at Kansas.”
Pie with Petty
Almirola’s brief visit to Michigan drew attention to events surrounding the upcoming Firekeeper’s Casino 400. The race weekend June 16th through 18th is packed with fan friendly activities scheduled at the track. Almirola’s boss, Richard Petty, turns 80 this year. To celebrate that milestone Smithfield Foods has teamed up with Grand Traverse Pie Company to host “Pie with Petty.” For $80 fans can purchase a ticket to the party, enjoy their own individual bacon apple pie, and spend time chatting with “The King.” Quoting Aric, “there is nothing more American than NASCAR racing, apple pie, and King Richard Petty.”
Before letting Aric slip away we had to ask the question all our readers want to know the answer to. If we were to visit the Almirola home what kind of vehicle would we find in the driveway? “A Ford F-250, four-wheel drive. I have always been a pick-up guy and after moving from Florida to Mooresville I vowed to never be stuck due to the weather. If we get a dusting of snow and it shuts the city down, I know my truck is going to get me where I want to go.” And what does wife Janice drive the children around in? “A Ford Expedition, we are an all Ford family.
Finishing up on his sponsor commitment Aric cut a video clip for the Pie with Petty promotion. View the unofficial version by clicking below.