Aric Almirola’s career came full circle in 2018. The driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang embarked on his seventh full season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but first with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). In reconnecting with familiar faces, most notably team co-owner Tony Stewart and crew chief John Klausmeier, Almirola had a career year.
In a season that began with a near win in the Daytona 500, as Almirola was leading on the final lap before getting spun only a mile from the finish line, Almirola ended 2018 a career-best fifth in the championship standings, 11 places better than his previous best points finish of 16th in 2014. Almirola’s 17 top-10 finishes were more than double his tally from any previous season, and his 181 laps led were more than he had in his seven previous seasons combined. Finally, after contending for wins all year long, Almirola finally broke through in the fall with a popular victory Oct. 14 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway that sent him into the penultimate round of the NASCAR Playoffs.
A Florida native, of Cuban descent, Almirola made his first foray into NASCAR competition in 2004 behind the wheel of a LTE-model stock car. He made his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Start in 2007 and immediately began to climb the ranks over the next few years, competing in all three of NASCAR’s premier series. In 2012, Richard Petty tapped Almirola to race the famed No. 43 Ford and he rewarded Petty’s belief in him by winning the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 and finishing the year with a top-five and four top-10s.
The 2014 season was a breakthrough one for Almirola. He won his first Monster Energy Cup race at the Daytona International Speedway. The success of the 2014 season earned Almirola a spot in the Top 25 Latin Athletes in ESPN Deportes The Magazine.
From 2015 through 2017, Almirola collected six top-fives and 13 top-10s. While a variety of factors made the success of 2014 difficult to emulate, Almirola made sure his abilities remained on display by winning two Xfinity Series races – one at Daytona in 2016 and another at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in 2017.
Almirola obviously went on to seize his opportunity at SHR and displayed his talent in 2018 and 2019, leading into a promising season for 2020.