Stewart-Haas Racing driver Aric Almirola is not exactly having the start to the 2021 Nascar Cup season he wants to brag about. In the first five races of the season, he’s crashed out of two and had another finish outside the top 30. Almirola’s best finish came this past Sunday with an 11th place in Phoenix.
Almiolra puts some of the blame for his early season finishes squarely on his shoulders.
“I think a lot of it is just luck and circumstances, and then mistakes, honestly, on my part for a couple of them,” Almirola said. “Daytona 500 was just bad luck. There’s nothing I could have done different. I was running second and got an aggressive push from behind from Christopher Bell and got turned and wrecked, so I don’t know what I could have done different, so circumstances out of our control.
“We go the very next week to the Daytona Road Course and I was running inside the top 10 and spun out in the infield section of the road course and made a mistake and got us way behind on track position late in the race and clawed our way back from 30th place back up to 16th or 17th-place finish.
“Then we went to Homestead and I made a mistake again, two weeks in a row. We had a decent car, not great. We worked on it really hard to get it better and I wrecked with Ryan Blaney. That resulted in a poor finish and then we went to Vegas and we were just off. We were not good and then bad luck, something, a piece of debris got inside the left-front wheel and knocked the valve stem off the left-front during the run and we got a flat left-front tire and wrecked and finished last.”
“I think a lot of it has been bad luck and circumstances, but there’s also been mistakes on my part as well, so we just have to clean everything up. We’ve got to have better cars. The driver has to do his job and not make mistakes and we’ve got to have luck turn and start going our way, instead of against us.”
Despite his struggles on track however, Almirola’s efforts on the sponsor front remain strong. He has long term deals with Smithfield foods
Almirola understands winning would make everything better and positive on-track performance is part of what keeps sponsors happy. But the key for Almirola is focusing on the business side of that sponsorship; things that matter just as much as what is seen on the track. He said it’s no real secret how he keeps his current sponsors happy, while attracting new ones. It’s all about the personal relationships he fosters with the sponsors.
“That’s one of the things that I have strived really hard at over the course of my career,” Almirola said. “I feel like I’ve done a really good job in the last decade of getting partners and holding onto them and making sure that I over deliver on every aspect that I’m in control of. You can’t always control on-track performance as much as we wish we could, but the things that I can control away from the racetrack I feel like I work extremely hard at that and it’s created great partnerships and great relationships for me over the years that we’ve been able to keep partners around for a long time.”
Almirola has made the playoffs the last three seasons, but currently finds himself 26th in points, 43 markers away from the cutoff to make the playoffs. Moving forward however, Almirola is convinced his on-track performance will improve.
“I am confident,” he said. We’ve got a really great race team. We did it last year. We went on a run of top 10 and top 5 finishes for a couple of months straight, so it’s possible. We just have to get back on track. 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.”
Once he does start getting those better finishes, Almirola will be able to over-deliver and keep his sponsors happy on, and off the track.