Stewart-Haas Racing have confirmed today that Aric Almirola will drive the #10 Ford Fusion in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The announcement, which has been heavily rumoured for the last few months, came with the subsequent reveal of the #10 Smithfield Foods Ford Fusion, with the sponsors moving with Almirola from Richard Petty Motorsports.
Earlier this year it was announced that Stewart-Haas Racing would not be resigning Danica Patrick, the current driver of the #10 Ford, for 2018 due to sponsorship issues. This was followed up by a separate announcement at Almirola would not be returning to the #43 RPM Ford. Shortly after, it was wildly speculated that Almirola would be taking Patrick’s ride, with today’s news finally confirming it.
“This is the opportunity every racer wants,” Almirola said. “Stewart-Haas Racing is an experienced organization with a lot of depth, great technical support from Ford, and staffed with racers from top to bottom. They lean on each other, challenge each other and make each other better. I’m really looking forward to being a part of that.
“I’ve known Tony Stewart since our time together at Joe Gibbs Racing. I know what he expects and he knows my commitment. I can’t thank him and Smithfield enough for believing in me and providing this opportunity.”
Almirola made his full-time NASCAR Cup Series debut back in 2012 for Richard Petty Motorsports in the famous #43 car. This came after four years of part-time appearances for teams such as RPM, Tommy Baldwin Racing, Phoenix Racing, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. Previously, he had also taken part in a full-time season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, two full-time seasons in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series along with several additional part-time seasons in both series. He took fourth place in the 2011 XFINITY Series championship and second place in the 2010 Truck Series.
The highlight of Almirola’s Cup series career so far came in the 2014 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona when he secured his first and, to date, only win. Following two huge wrecks, the first involving sixteen cars and the second involving twenty-six, Almirola was leading the race. On lap 108, rain returned to the track after previous showers and bought the field back to pit-road under a red flag. Eventually, NASCAR officials would decide not to restart the race, thus earning Almirola a shock race victory. The win would also earn him a spot in that year’s chase grid, but he was eliminated in the first round. He very nearly returned to the championship playoffs in 2015, but barely missed out after a great strategy call almost won him the 2015 fall race at Richmond.
To date, along with his victory, Almirola has also taken thirty-one top ten finishes, eleven top-five finishes and a pole position at the 2012 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Some have thought for a while that Almirola has been performing well in pretty average equipment. By contrast, Danica Patrick has been criticised for the last few years for under-performing compared to her Stewart-Haas Racing team-mates who have been able to contend for victories regularly. Patrick, however, has just seven top ten finishes to her name since her debut in 2013.
“I’ve known Aric since 2004 and have always been impressed with him on the racetrack,” said Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner and former Cup series champion, Tony Stewart, “I’ve raced with him and seen him mature into a really good racecar driver. He can compete for wins here at Stewart-Haas Racing and help our other drivers compete for wins. He’s an excellent fit for this team and for Smithfield.”
Almirola will make his debut in the NASCAR Cup Series during the 2018 Daytona Speedweeks in February. He will join Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, with Kurt Busch still negotiating with Stewart-Haas over his seat in the #41.
Darrell Wallace Jr will replace Almirola in the #43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports, as confirmed last week. The final piece of this particular puzzle, Danica Patrick, remains unaccounted for 2018 as she does not have a ride confirmed as of yet.