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Mar 08, 2014 - 03:02 PM
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2014 Las Vegas Q&A: NASCAR Sprint Cup - Aric Almirola
Posted by: ASkyler on Mar 08, 2014 - 03:01 PM
2014 Las Vegas Q&A: NASCAR Sprint Cup - Aric Almirola

Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion, and new crew chief Trent Owens have gotten off to a good start with NASCAR’s new qualifying format, advancing to the final round at Phoenix and Las Vegas. Almirola, who is scheduled to start eighth in tomorrow’s Kobalt 400, spoke about the start to his season while Owens gave his impression of how things have gone so far at Richard Petty Motorsports.

ARIC ALMIROLA - No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion - HOW DO YOU FEEL THE SEASON HAS STARTED FOR YOUR TEAM? "Daytona didn’t go to plan. We had a good car and led some laps, so I was happy with that. I wish we could have finished it off better than we did, but that’s part of it. We went to team and rebounded fairly well. We had a lot of speed in our car and qualified well, and ran pretty much in the top 12 all day. We just struggled to get going on restarts and we finished worse than we actually ran, so I was happy with Phoenix. We certainly have areas to work on and continue to improve and be better, but every race team in the garage does, so I think our year has started off kind of the way we expected."

WHAT DOES TRENT BRING TO THIS TEAM? "Trent really brings a different way of thinking about things. It’s really easy to get stale and get stagnant and kind of get stuck in your ways and he seems to really be knowledgeable about the race cars and does a great job of thinking through the changes that he wants to make. I think he’s just really talented and really smart when it comes to the race car side of it. The engineering side that it seems the garage is going more and more to, he’s really up on all that stuff and I think he’s just been a great addition to our race team."


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YOU’VE HAD YOUR SHARE OF CREW CHIEFS THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS. HOW HAVE YOU ADAPTED TO THIS LATEST ONE? "It’s been great and it’s been really easy. He does his thing and I do my thing. He does a great job with the cars and I think we work really well together. I give him my input and then he goes and takes it from there and does his thing. So far, we’re only three races in but I think it’s gone exceptionally well as far as getting to know each other and working with each other. I think we have a really good understanding of what we both expect and what we both want, and I think it’s gone really well. I think our personalities mesh really well."

THIS TEAM HAS A LOT OF THE SAME CREW, SO IT’S NOT LIKE YOU’RE STARTING ALL OVER. DO YOU FEEL THIS TEAM IS READY TO MAKE THAT NEXT STEP? "Yeah, for sure. I think where we were at when I first came here to where we were last year was leaps and bounds better, and I feel like we’ve made that same progression again. A lot of that is thanks to our sponsor, Smithfield Foods, for stepping up and committing the way they’ve committed financially to be able to allow us to go out and hire the guys we need to go out and hire - to hire Trent Owens and hire the engineers we have. There’s just a lot of stuff we have in place that we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do if we didn’t have the additional investment Smithfield Foods has made in our team. I think where we’re at this year is probably 50 percent ahead of where we were last year and we’re continuing to grow. I hope that as we learn these race cars better and with this new rules package, and as Trent gets more accustomed to even simple stuff like running through the practices because practice is so much different on this side of the garage than what he’s used to, so as we get going and get in a rhythm and understand what we need out of these race cars I think we’re just going to get better and better."

ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED -- THERE ARE ALWAYS BIG FLUCTUATIONS IN THE STANDINGS EARLY IN THE YEAR, BUT HOW MUCH DO YOU LOOK AT POINTS NOW WITH THE NEW CHASE FORMAT? "If you win a race, you pretty much know you’ll be in the Chase, but at the same time you have to think about points. I want to win a race. That’s our number one objective, but if we don’t and we’re the first or second guy in points that hasn’t won a race, you’re gonna be in the Chase. We can’t lose sight of that. We can’t just throw caution to the win and either win or wreck every week. We have to be conscious about the points and be able to make the Chase even if we don’t win a race. We fully anticipate to win a race and I think we’re certainly capable of that, but we need to maximize how many points we get every weekend as well."

TRENT OWENS, Crew Chief - No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion - WHAT DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE BROUGHT TO THIS TEAM? "I don’t know. This is obviously my first year, so I don’t really know what they’ve done in the past. I’m not here to say anybody did anything wrong or right. Obviously, they did some things in the past that were good, so I try to take some of that stuff and learn from that. Working in the Nationwide Series, in a lot of way we have to be more creative in developing spring setups because we have limitations on parts we can use, so right now some of that stuff is applying to the Cup cars with the new rules package. That new rules package has opened up areas that guys who have even been in the Cup garage for a while haven’t been able to work on in some time, so that rules package has allowed myself and people like me to just do different things. I guess I’m one that likes to just try to work on my vehicle and not get too caught up on what someone beside me is doing. We have team cars that we share between and that’s always great, especially when you’re struggling because it gives you an avenue to get back to basics and get close. I’ve always been one to just try and take our race vehicle, listen to what the driver is saying and just work on that and improve on that. I’m just thinking of moving forward and make this deal the best we can."

HOW WOULD YOU SAY THE SEASON HAS STARTED? "I’ve been happy. The competition level is so tough on this side of the garage as compared to where the Nationwide garage is. I wanted to be knocking on some top 10s here early in the season and I felt like Daytona, obviously anything can happen on speedways, but we ran competitively. We ran in the front in the Duel, we ran in the front in the race until we got in the accident. Our finish didn’t reflect how we were running. We went to Phoenix and it was definitely a big thing to make that final session in qualifying. We raced among the top 10 most of the day, but had a better long run car than short run, so the race just didn’t work out in our favor. But still we finished 15th and had a nice rebound from Daytona, and then we came here and struggled when we unloaded on test day. I was surprised by that because I really had hopes that everything was gonna be good, but a curveball was thrown at us here. By qualifying time we did get the car a lot better and were able to make the final session again, and I thought that was really strong for our team just to go through the changes and see that we can improve the car throughout a weekend and not get stuck, so that was a big thing. And then in race trim, I think at least right now we’re in the top 15 in lap times, so we need to find a little bit. But, overall, I’m pleased. The core of this team has been together for a while and that made my transition really easy to have experienced guys on the team. It wasn’t like we were having to start over, so I’m pleased with where we’re at right now."

TRENT OWENS CONTINUED -- WHAT’S BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR YOU COMING TO A TEAM WITH SO MUCH EXPERIENCE? "The biggest challenge - the race vehicle, the racing, the practices, that stuff is pretty straightforward. It’s no different in the Nationwide garage, however in the Cup garage there are more people involved. There are more shock guys, more crew guys, you have more sets of tires. Everything is just a bigger stage, so that’s more the difference. All of the race procedure stuff is pretty straightforward. In some ways sometimes the Nationwide races can be tougher to call because we’re limited on tires, so it’s just a bigger stage and the competition level is unreal. When we go to qualify you see the last 12 cars and look at the times it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ You can’t even click a stopwatch with your finger that quick to get the time difference, so it’s pretty amazing to see that."

WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN IN ARIC SO FAR AND WHAT’S YOUR IMPRESSION OF HIM? "I like everything he’s giving us right now. His feedback has been really accurate through testing and on the race weekends. He’s really driven to have a good season. His focus is definitely on the race car right now and that’s always good to see. This is only my third race working with him, but I feel like we can run with any of these guys in the garage and that’s the attitude we need to carry to be able to do that. What I’m seeing right now is from years past he’s developed in to knowing what he wants to race now, has a little more confidence when it comes to developing setups on the car, so I’ve enjoyed his feedback and his personality. I really can’t say there’s anything we need to work on that way right now."

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