By: Ashley McCubbin
With each week of NASCAR Cup Series competition thus far, a new winner has emerged in victory lane. Many would believe it’d place extra pressure on other drivers to earn a checkered flag.
However, that’s not where the pressure is stemming from for Aric Almirola. Instead, it’s his performance overall this season.
“We feel pressure just because we’re not performing like we know we should, or we’re not getting the results we know we should,” he told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “So we feel pressure to turn our season around and start running the way that we know we’re capable of. I’m on my fourth season at Stewart-Haas Racing and have never gotten off to a start like this. We’ve always found ourselves in the top 10 or 12 in points by this time in the season and usually comfortably in on points and thinking about just being consistent and trying to win races when we have cars capable.”
Through his previous three seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing, Almirola completed each campaign in the top-20 in points highlighted by fifth in 2018. Those years saw him complete five events with a top-10 ranking.
Right now after five races, he is scored 26th in standings with best performance of 11th last weekend at Phoenix Raceway.
“Never have I been in a situation like we are in now to where you’re way on the outside trying to claw your way back into contention,” he continued. “So the old saying holds true, though. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. That’s kind of our focus going forward is we’ve got to take it one race at a time and in every race we’ve got to focus on just trying to score as many stage points as we can and trying to get the best finish we can.
“If that means running fifth with a fifth-place car, then we need to do that. And if we have a car capable of winning, then we need to do everything in our power to try and get the W.”
Almirola knows he can get the job done, as evident by last season. He was able to score a top-10 in half of the events, including nine in a row through the summer months.
“We just have to get back on track,” he said. “We got off to a rough start and sometimes that happens. Life doesn’t always go the way you want it to and you go through some rough patches, but it doesn’t stay that way forever, especially with a great race team like we have. We will start getting the good finishes. Phoenix was a good day for us. We needed that kind of a day where we ran in the top 10. We scored some stage points and we finished 11th, so a solid day, nothing spectacular, but not catastrophic like the weekends we had prior to that as well.
“We’ll get back on track. We’re a great race team and I have all the confidence in the world that we will start putting the finishes on the board that we need to.”
Unfortunately, Atlanta Motor Speedway hasn’t always treated Almirola well in the past, meaning his struggles may continue. Through 10 previous starts, he has only placed in the top-10 twice, but scored a track-best eighth recently in 2019.
” “Atlanta is just a tricky place,” he commented. “It’s really worn out and the cars slip and slide around there a lot, and now with this new package that we’ve had with the rules package, it’s constantly a balance of drag out of your race car to make your car go fast versus downforce in your car, which makes it go a little bit slower on new tires, but usually takes care of the tires better throughout the long run and when the tires do give up and the pace slows way down on older tires, more downforce is helpful, so there’s definitely a balancing act between figuring that out.”
Despite past performances, Almirola enters confidence with teammate Kevin Harvick’s win last year, as well as showing speed himself prior to a loose wheel taking him out of contention.
“The 4, I think, was a top 5 car throughout the entire race and then got their car really good at the end of the race and went on to win the race,” he added. “Atlanta is certainly a track that is a possibility for us to go there and run up front and challenge to win.”