Dearborn – Monster Energy Cup NASCAR driver Aric Almirola had an eventful day Monday, making a stop at the Lions’ headquarters in Allen Park with his 6-year-old son Alex before heading to the Ford’s Garage restaurant to talk about the June 9 FireKeepers Casino 400 race at Michigan International Speedway.
Almirola, 35, is in the peak of his NASCAR career, competing in the No. 10 Ford Mustang during his second season with Stewart-Haas Racing.
Almirola had a breakthrough season in 2018 for SHR, winning at Talladega and finishing fifth in the battle for the series championship. The SHR organization won 14 races last year with Kevin Harvick taking a series-high eight, including the August race at MIS.
Now, Almirola and his SHR teammates – Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez – are competing in the new Ford Mustang while getting used to NASCAR’s new rules package.
“The biggest differences are the spoiler is much taller, and we have these big aero ducts in the front of the car that allow air flow to go through the car, and that promotes a lot of drag,” Almirola said. “In years past the only opening in the nose of the cars were to cool the radiator and the brakes. Now, we have these huge holes in the front of the noses that let air flow in, and that promotes a lot of drag. So then that allows the cars behind to help draft up to the car in front.
“The cars go slower at the end of the straightaway. Instead of running 215 mph at the end of the straightaway we’re running about 195. … Now, with as much downforce as we have in the cars, and drag, our top speed is just a little below 200, but our mid-corner speed is high 170s to 180, so we’re going much faster through the middle of the corner, which puts a lot more load and stress on the car and the driver.”
The Joe Gibbs Racing team of Kyle Busch (three), Denny Hamlin (two) and Martin Truex Jr. (two) have combined to win seven of the 12 races so far this season in the Toyota Camry. But the Ford Mustang has enjoyed four victories – all from Team Penske drivers – three coming from Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski and one from defending series champion Joey Logano.
Chevrolet drivers struggled in the new Camaro rolled out last year and Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports owns the lone win.
Almirola has yet to reach Victory Lane this season, but currently sits 11th in points and would be competing in the playoffs – the battle for the championship in the final 10 races – if the cutoff point ended today.
“We’ve been 11th the last few weeks,” said Almirola, who finished 12th in Saturday night’s race in Kansas. “We were sixth in points going into Bristol and had a few weeks in a row not executing, bad luck, so we have to get back on track.
“I feel like Ford is doing a great job of getting to where we need to be. Penske has been doing a great job of getting the speed out of their cars. For us, we’ve been going through some growing pains with the new rules package and trying to learn and adapt, but overall the rollout of the Mustang has been really good. We just have to do our part on the SHR side of thing of continuing to evolve and figure out where we’re lacking.”
Almirola feels there will more passing at MIS with the new rules package, resulting in a more entertaining race.
“I think that the passing at Michigan will be more now with this package, for sure,” Almirola said. “I think there will be more side-by-side racing than we’ve seen in the past. Quite frankly, at Michigan for the last several years we’ve been running about 215-to-220 mph getting into the corner and that’s too fast.
“I’m not scared to run 220, but the problem is that when you’re running 220 you’re constantly on the edge of the capability of the car, the tire, everything.
“As you bring the speeds down the drivers are more inclined to be more comfortable. You’re now under the capability of the car and the tire on corner entry, so you can be more aggressive racing around other cars. So I think with the new rules package will definitely promote more aggressive racing at Michigan. I do think that we will see a lot more passing.”
Almirola enjoys coming to MIS’ two-mile superspeedway. His wife, Janice Goss is from Hartland, and Goss’ father is Randy Goss, a former national champion flat track motorcycle racer who was a factory driver for Harley Davidson.
Almirola also enjoyed his visit with the Lions.
“We had a lot of fun,” Almirola said. “We met a lot of them, met Matthew Stafford, Trey Flowers, Danny Amendola, Matt Prater, had a great time.
“I talked a lot with Coach Patricia this morning and he has been to several races and he’s been blown away about the access the fans get to the teams and drivers. He said there’s no way that a fan could stand down on the field during the national anthem before a game, and you look at pit road before the start of a race and there’s fans, sponsors, and everybody else down on pit road right before the start of an event with the teams and race car drivers. You don’t access like that in any other sporting event.”
MIS in 2019
FireKeepers Casino 400
When: 2 p.m., Sunday, June 9
Support races: ARCA Menards Series 200, Friday, June 7, 6:30 p.m.; NASCAR Xfinity Series LTi Printing 250, Saturday, June 8, 1:30 p.m.
Consumers Energy 400
When: 3 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 11
Support race: NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Corrigan Oil 200, Saturday, 1 p.m.