DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – Heading into the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Aric Almirola finally had his big break. The Florida native had finally cashed in on his all his years of trying to work his way as a household name in NASCAR and it paid off.
Almirola, spent his previous six seasons with Richard Petty Motorsports. Unfortunately, RPM just didn’t have the resources to contend with the top teams in NASCAR. From 2012 through his departure following the 2017 season, Almirola had just one win, 10 top five finishes and 29 top 10’s. He had also led only 118 laps as well.
The team he was going to for 2018 though was one of the best in NASCAR. Stewart Haas Racing had a championship caliber organization. The car he was taking over had struggled in years past with Danica Patrick.
From 2013 through 2017, Patrick only had seven top 10 finishes during his career with none resulting in a top five. She had also only led just 64 laps.
So, with Almirola’s lack of real success with RPM and this car’s lack of results up front, how would 2018 play out?
That’s why Almirola had very low expectations for 2018. Despite those low expectations, he had his best season to date.
He was a half of a lap away from winning the Daytona 500. He won the fall race at Talladega which helped propel him to the Round of 8. He had one win, four top fives and 17 top 10 finishes in 2018 alone. He had also led 181 laps.
Almirola, had led 118 laps for his career and just six since 2015 while this No. 10 Ford had led just 64 total laps in five years. He led 181 circuits in 36 races.
Now, he heads to 2019 with low expectations again.
“Going into last year I really had no expectations and I don’t this year,” Almirola said heading into the 2019 season opener at Daytona. “I went into last year very open-minded, wanting to learn the system at Stewart-Haas. I wanted to learn my team and my teammates and just wanted to be a part of the team. I wanted to learn how I fit in, so as time went on and as the year progressed, I felt like all the learning started to pay off.
“By summertime, we showed up to the track with a better understanding of what we needed. We were faster in practice, qualifying and the race. Then we started to put ourselves in position to win races.
“I’ve started to take that same state of mind and attitude going into this year. We don’t need to sit down and say these are our expectations and we need to check this box and that box. The goal is to just be better. If there was a track we struggled at we just had to be better. If there were details we missed, we needed to be better. If there were things we did great, we need to identify that and make them even better.
“I think setting expectations can set you up for failure because you get disappointed when things don’t go your way and you get complacent when you exceed those expectations. You know, life is like a box of chocolates and you never know what you’re going to get, so it’s really just about grinding and working hard to make your weaknesses stronger and your strengths even stronger.”
Almirola, gets going this weekend in the season opening Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona (3 p.m. ET/FS1/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). He is no stranger to victory lane at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. His first Cup Series win there came in July 2014. He led 14 laps and captured the win in the rain-shortened race. In the July 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona, he led the most important lap – the final one – at the high-banked superspeedway, then added to his restrictor-plate resume with an Xfinity Series win at Talladega May 6, 2017.
“Restrictor-plate racing is about drafting and teamwork,” Almirola said. “Two cars go faster than one and four cars go faster than two. The pack as a whole goes faster than a couple of cars. The more teamwork, the faster that train will go. That win at Talladega last year was clutch and it taught us a lot about restrictor-plate racing as a team.”
Almirola will have the opportunity to knock the high-bank-racing rust off early this season during Sunday’s 75-lap, non-points Clash. He is one of 20 drivers who are eligible for the race, which invites recent Daytona 500 pole and race winners, Clash winners, and previous playoff participants. Almirola’s best finish in his three previous Clash outings is eighth place.
“The Clash is a preseason all-star race,” he said. “It’s very much a who’s who of NASCAR in that race. It’s prestigious but, at the same time, I think it’s beneficial because you get an opportunity to get a race under our belts before our ‘Super Bowl.’ Unlike other sports, our Super Bowl comes first, so it’s great to have the opportunity to get some racing under your belt.”