CARS Late Model Stock Tour
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Aug 25, 2022
Aric Almirola was set to retire at the end of this season, but a confluence of circumstances will keep him behind of the wheel of the Stewart Haas Racing No. 10 for at least two more years through the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season.
None of this works without long-term partner Smithfield Foods.
There was a sense that Smithfield would depart at the end of the season, and Almirola decided that spending more time at home with his wife and young children was more appealing than the time required to find additional sponsorship and maybe a new ride.
But throughout this season, the new leadership group at Smithfield learned more about the partnership with Almirola and Stewart-Haas and it triggered conversations about maybe keeping the band together for the foreseeable future.
That meant talking Almirola out of retirement if there was any openness.
"It was a few weeks, to be honest, and there was a lot of talking back and forth like, 'What does the sponsorship look like?' 'Are they going to scale back?' 'Are they going to stay flat or are they going to increase their level of investment and what does that look like and what does that look like for me," Almirola said.
"'Are they going to sponsor half of the year and do we have to find a sponsor for the other half of the year?' All of those things played a key role in trying to iron out all the details."
Almirola says Smithfield is back at a level of commitment it was at from 2018-19.
"The first question (they asked) was, 'Would you reconsider (retirement) so I said, ‘Let me think about it (and) let me talk to (wife) Janice. Let me pray about it.'"
He said ‘yes,’ but it would require ‘x, y and z’ and after another couple of weeks of ironing out the details, the agreement was signed within the past week.
Part of the soul-searching Almirola needed to go through to reach this conclusion was how his kids, ages 10 and 9, felt about it. Part of the reason he was so quick to commit to retirement was a conviction that he wanted to spend more time with them while they were still young enough to make meaningful memories together.
Almirola says they were ‘elated’ to stay in the driver’s lot and keep going to races with their dad.
"Alex and Abby were both very excited to still continue to be here," Almirola said. "I think this is one of the things you have to realize: Alex came to his first race when he was one month old. He was born on September 4th and he came to his first race at Talladega in October. Abby was born on Thanksgiving Day in 2013. Her first race was the Daytona 500 and she was three months old, so our kids don’t know any different. They don’t know really what life looks like away from the racetrack and so they had a little bit of uncertainty as well."
They weren't sure they wanted to leave the friends and community they had built around NASCAR, especially of their dad still could do it and wanted to do it.
"They have their friends at school and then they come to the racetrack on the weekends and they have their friends at the racetrack, so they were nervous about what it looked like once we were done racing," Almirola said. "Would we never get to see our friends again that were at the racetrack, so they were happy to find out they were going get to keep coming."
Almirola also expects to remain paired with crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, who joined the organization this season following a Daytona 500 winning stint at Front Row Motorsports.
"Drew has been a wonderful addition to the race team," Almirola said. "He is such a great team leader and the guys on the team love him. I really enjoy working with him. It’s been a lot of fun working with Drew this year, so I think, as far as I know, that’s the plan. It would be news to me if it wasn’t."
With Blickensderfer and Stewart-Haas, Almirola believes he has the keys to remain competitive. And while that matters to him and the team, at the end of the day, Almirola is only back because it's something that his family wants to continue doing with him.
"As I approached retirement it was like, man, I want to make sure that we do this together, that we go out holding hands as a family," Almirola said. "We really soak it all up. We embrace it. We cherish this opportunity because when my kids were younger it was easy. They weren’t going to remember, but now Alex almost being 10, Abby almost being 9, that changes things.
"They’re going to remember this time in their life forever, so I wanted to make sure that it was done, and we did it right on the way out. Yeah, I think for the rest of my life I’ll take those lessons learned and make sure that I don’t sacrifice being a great husband and being a great dad at the expense of being a professional and vice versa. I don’t want to sacrifice being a great professional at the expense of being a poor dad or poor husband or absent one."