Aric Almirola starting from ‘ground zero’ with Stewart-Haas Racing

1 Comment

After six years of racing and struggling to compete for the most famous name in NASCAR, Aric Almirola is getting a reboot to his Cup career.

Tuesday and Wednesday, the 33-year-old drove a Cup car that didn’t have Richard Petty’s famous No. 43 on the side of it for the first time since 2010.

Almirola took part in a Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway in his unofficial debut in Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 10 Ford.

It was just another part of the busiest offseason of Almirola’s career, sparked by the November announcement of his move from Richard Petty Motorsports to SHR.

“We run a long schedule, so I certainly took some time to myself,” Almirola said Tuesday. “But I have spent a lot of time at the shop. Probably more time at the race car shop this offseason then I’ve ever spent. I’ve basically started from scratch, right? Started from zero, with all new seats, pouring inserts in seats and just everything. Gauges, dash and just everything that you can think of that a driver looks at or is a part of inside the race car, I’ve started from ground zero.”

During his six seasons with RPM, the offseason was “pretty mellow and relaxed and routine” for Almirola. That changes when you transition to a larger team.

“New seats, new team, new cars, new people, new names and faces to learn,” Almirola said.

There are some familiar faces at the SHR shop for Almirola from his days racing at Dale Earnhardt Inc. a decade ago.

“That part’s been fun to rekindle those relationships that I’ve had in the past,” Almirola said. “But just to go there (to the shop) and see the operation … when you drive up to the complex it’s so big and so massive. They have so many resources at their fingertips inside their race car shop.”

Almirola, who has just one Cup win in 244 starts, is reminded of Richard Petty Motorsport’s lack of success during his tenure there every time he visits SHR’s Kannapolis, North Carolina, shop. He sees the two championship trophies and trophies from the 39 Cup victories in their first nine seasons.

“You see all their trophies in their trophy case and their championship trophies, it’s very evident why,” Almirola said. “Just the attention to detail, the amount of people pulling in the same direction – it’s incredible to see first-hand, so knowing I’ve had to race against that the last six years has been disheartening, but I’m glad I get to be a part of it finally.”

Of SHR’s roster of drivers – Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Almirola – only Harvick (14) and Busch (five) have wins with the team. Bowyer hasn’t won since 2012.

Almirola replaces Danica Patrick, who went winless in her 180 starts with the team. He said he hasn’t given much thought to replacing Patrick, but that the pressure to drive the No. 10 doesn’t come close to what it took to drive the No. 43 for six years.

“When I get in the car, the only thing I see is the windshield and 39 other drivers that I’ve beaten or want to beat,” Almirola said. “So for me, I’ve driven the sport’s most iconic car for the last six years, so if you want to talk about it from that aspect, there’s been more pressure driving that Petty blue 43 car than I think I’ll ever have driving a black and white 10 car.”

NASCAR connections to Monday’s college football National Championship

Talladega Superspeedway
Leave a comment

The 2017-18 college football season ends tonight with the National Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The game (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) pits the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs, two Southeastern Conference teams.

We decided to take a look at the two schools and their connections to the NASCAR world.

If we missed any NASCAR connections, let us know.

The paths of Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski crossed last year.

In September, the driver of the No. 2 Ford visited the school’s Tuscaloosa campus, which is located just under 110 miles west of Talladega Superspeedway.

Saban actually served as the grand marshal of the 2009 spring Cup race at the 2.66-mile speedway, when Keselowski won his first Cup race.

During the visit, the two swapped jerseys, with Keselowski receiving a No. 2 jersey with his name on it.

“I can tell you this, I hope the tide rolls us right into victory lane when we get back to Talladega,” Keselowski said. “Like Coach Saban and his teams at Alabama, there is a winning tradition at Team Penske. We hope to add to that legacy with another Talladega Superspeedway triumph, and ultimately another championship.”

Two weeks later, Keselowski claimed his fifth Talladega win.

Saban will be looking for his sixth national championship tonight.

Hendrick Motorsports has a few team members who have ties to the game.

Rowdy Harrell, a former walk-on linebacker at Alabama, is a rear tire carrier on the No. 88 team. He won three championships with the Crimson Tide, the last coming in 2013. He joined Hendrick in September of that year.

Harrell was brought to the team by Chris Burkey, a pit crew coach for Hendrick. Burkey is a former scouting assistant for the Miami Dolphins from Saban’s time as head coach of the team.

The colors of the Crimson Tide have made their way to the high banks of Talladega multiple times over the last 17 years.

The first Alabama-themed scheme belonged to Scott Pruett and his No. 32 Tide car in 2000.

Michael Waltrip Racing was the vessel for three more schemes in 2010, 2012 and 2013, the seasons following Alabama National Championships.

2010 – David Reutimann

(Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

2012 – Clint Bowyer

(Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

2013 – Michael Waltrip

There are far fewer connections between NASCAR and the University of Georgia, but they’re there.

Chase Elliott, the Hendrick Motorsports driver and native of Dawsonville, Georgia, is a noted fan of the Bulldogs.

Hendrick’s strength and condition coach, Darius Dewberry, was a Georgia linebacker from 2006-09 and joined Hendrick in June 2013.

NASCAR on NBC’s own Rutledge Wood is a native of Alabama, but he moved to Georgia in 1995 and graduated from the school with a degree in marketing.

Bulldog sports teams have interacted with the NASCAR world a few times.

In 2014, the football team was part of the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina, playing against the University of Louisville. As part of their bowl week festivities, the teams visited Charlotte Motor Speedway to participate in the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Two years later, the Georgia baseball team visited Charlotte to play the University of North Carolina – Charlotte 49ers.

As part of their visit, they visited Hendrick Motorsports to get a taste of the life of a NASCAR pit crew.

 and on Facebook

Here’s what is new in 2018 for Cup teams

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A new year brings many changes. Such is the case for NASCAR teams. Here’s a look at some of the key changes heading into the 2018 season for Cup teams that have announced drivers for this season.

(Drivers are listed in order of their car number with where they finished in the points last year)

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (12th in points in 2017)

What’s new: Chip Ganassi Racing announced Wednesday that Doug Duchardt has been hired to be the organization’s chief operating officer.

What’s the same: McMurray is back for a ninth season with the team in his second stint there. Matt McCall begins his fourth season with McMurray.

 

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (4th)

What’s new: Discount Tire moves over to be a primary sponsor of Keselowski’s car for 10 races.

What’s the same: Keselowski is back with crew chief Paul Wolfe for an eighth consecutive season.

 

No. 3 Austin Dillon (11th)

What’s new: He has only one teammate, Ryan Newman, at Richard Childress Racing, with the team cutting back to two cars for 2018.

What’s the same: Crew chief Justin Alexander is back after being paired with Dillon in May 2017.

 

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (3rd)

What’s new: Wife DeLana delivered the couple’s second child, a daughter in late December.

What’s the same: Crew chief Rodney Childers is back for a fifth season with Harvick. Since they’ve been together, they’ve won one championship, scored 14 victories and captured 13 poles.

 

No. 6 Trevor Bayne (22nd)

What’s new: AdvoCare is back but with a new paint scheme for this season. 

What’s the same: Matt Puccia is back as Bayne’s crew chief. They’ve been together since the 2016 season.

 

No. 9 Chase Elliott (5th)

What’s new: A new number for the son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.

What’s the same: Crew chief Alan Gustafson is back and Elliott, who enters his third Cup season, seeks his first career series win.

 

No. 10 Aric Almirola (29th)

What’s new: A new ride for Almirola, as he moves from Richard Petty Motorsports to Stewart-Haas Racing. That’s just among the many changes. Almirola also will have a new crew chief. John Klausmeier, who has been an engineer with the organization since 2009 and filled in as in interim crew chief previously, moves into that position for Almirola’s team. And a new look. Smithfield joins Almirola in the move, but its car will be black and white.

What’s the same: Even with the move, Almirola is driving a Ford again. 

 

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (6th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Crew chief Mike Wheeler is back for his third season with Hamlin. They’ve combined to win five races and three poles the previous two seasons.

 

No. 12 Ryan Blaney (9th)

What’s new: A new team. Blaney moves from the Wood Brothers to a third entry for Team Penske. He’ll be teammates to Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Team Penske purchased a charter from Roush Fenway Racing for Blaney’s car.

What’s the same: Crew chief Jeremy Bullins joins Blaney in the move from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske.

 

No. 13 Ty Dillon (24th)

What’s new: Crew chief Matt Borland joins the team from Richard Childress Racing.

What’s the same: Germain Racing remains aligned with Richard Childress Racing.

 

No. 14 Clint Bowyer (18th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz is paired with Bowyer for a second season in a row.

 

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (13th)

What’s new: Stenhouse is no longer dating Danica Patrick

What’s the same: Crew chief Brian Pattie and Stenhouse are set to begin their second season together after winning two races and making the playoffs last season.

 

No. 18 Kyle Busch (2nd)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: This will be the fourth Cup season for crew chief Adam Stevens and Busch. They’ve won 14 races and 11 poles the past three seasons together.

 

No. 19 Daniel Suarez (20th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Suarez is back with Arris and Stanley as sponsors in 2018.

 

No. 20 Erik Jones (19th)

What’s new: A new driver in this car that Matt Kenseth had run the past five seasons. Also, crew chief Chris Gayle moves with Jones, the 2017 Cup rookie of the year, from Furniture Row Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2018 campaign.

What’s the same: The car has the same number as last year.

 

No. 21 Paul Menard (23rd)

What’s new: A new home for Menard, who goes from Richard Childress Racing to the Wood Brothers. Greg Erwin will be the new crew chief, taking over for Jeremy Bullins, who moves from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske with Ryan Blaney.

What’s the same: The Wood Brothers.

 

No. 22 Joey Logano (17th)

What’s new: Logano’s wife is expecting the couple’s first child in January.

What’s the same: Crew chief Todd Gordon is back for his sixth season with Logano. They’ve combined to win 16 races and 14 poles working together.

 

No. 24 William Byron (Did not race Cup in 2017)

What’s new: A new driver and new number for what had been the No. 5 team at Hendrick Motorsports. The Xfinity Series champion moves up from JR Motorsports. He’ll have Darian Grubb as his crew chief.

What’s the same: Liberty University, a longtime backer of Byron, is back as a sponsor.

 

No. 31 Ryan Newman (16th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Caterpillar, which has been a partner with Richard Childress Racing since 2009, will sponsor Newman’s car in select races in 2018.

 

No. 32 Matt DiBenedetto (32nd)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: DiBenedetto is back with the team for a second consecutive year.

 

No. 34 Michael McDowell (26th)

What’s new: New ride for McDowell, who moves from Leavine Family Racing to Front Row Motorsports and joins David Ragan at that organization. Front Row Motorsports also has expanded its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.

What’s the same: Team remains in the Ford camp.

 

No. 37 Chris Buescher (25th)

What’s new: The team purchased a charter after leasing one last season.

What’s the same: Buescher is back for his second year with the team.

 

No. 38 David Ragan (30th)

What’s new: He has a new teammate with Michael McDowell joining the team and replacing Landon Cassill.

What’s the same: Ragan is back for his fifth season (in two stints) with Front Row Motorsports.

 

No. 41 Kurt Busch (14th)

What’s new: Is what’s old. Busch is back with Stewart-Haas Racing as is sponsor Monster Energy after his contract option was not picked up last season amid questions about sponsorship. Busch also has a new crew chief. Billy Scott moves from the No. 10 team to be Busch’s crew chief this season. Scott replaces Tony Gibson, who moves into a position at the shop.

What’s the same: The car number for Busch, who will enter his fifth season at Stewart-Haas Racing. 

 

No. 42 Kyle Larson (8th)

What’s new: A new sponsor for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver. Credit One will replace Target on the No. 42 Chevrolet in 2018. Also Larson got engaged to girlfriend Katelyn Sweet in December.

What’s the same: Larson will be teamed with crew chief Chad Johnston for a third consecutive year. They’ve combined to win five races and three poles together. 

 

No. 43 Darrell Wallace Jr. (50th)

What’s new: Wallace joins the team after running four races for Richard Petty Motorsports when Aric Almirola was injured last season. RPM also has switched from Ford to Chevrolet and formed an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and will get its engines from ECR Engines this season. Team also is adding sponsorship with Smithfield putting most of its resources with Almirola at Stewart-Haas Racing. 

What’s the same: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer returns to be Wallace’s crew chief.

 

No. 47 AJ Allmendinger (27th)

What’s new: No major changes announced.

What’s the same: This will be Allmendinger’s fifth season with JTG Daugherty Racing.

 

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (10th)

What’s new: No major changes announced.

What’s the same: He’s back with crew chief Chad Knaus for a 17th consecutive year.

 

No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (1st)

What’s new: A new moniker for Truex – reigning Cup champion. Also, the team is back to a one-car operation with the shuttering of the No. 77 team.

What’s the same: Champion crew chief Cole Pearn is back to lead this team.

 

No. 88 Alex Bowman (Did not race Cup in 2017)

What’s new: Bowman takes over the former ride of Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports.

What’s the same: Greg Ives is back as the team’s crew chief.

 

No. 95 Kasey Kahne (15th)

What’s new: Kahne joins Leavine Family Racing, replacing Michael McDowell. Travis Mack, who had been the car chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team at Hendrick Motorsports, makes the move to be Kahne’s crew chief.

What’s the same: The car number for the team.

 

 and on Facebook

Tony Gibson will be able to ‘make a difference’ in new role at Stewart-Haas Racing

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After 31 years, Tony Gibson will have a job in NASCAR that doesn’t send him on the road.

The former crew chief enters the 2018 season as the new production manager for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Gibson, 53, will supervise many of the departments responsible for building the cars for its four drivers, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer. That includes the chassis, body shop and fabrication shops.

Gibson, who spent his last three seasons as a crew chief on Busch’s No. 41 Ford, detailed his new role with SHR Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“It’s great for me because I’m a hands-on guy,” Gibson said. “I love to be working on the race cars and trying to make things better. When we were talking about this over the last year or so, how we were going to make this work, I just wanted to be where I could make a difference and help. This is a great way for me to help all the teams, all four teams, and be hands-on.”

SHR announced its new crew chief pairings on Dec. 15. Succeeding Gibson on the No. 41 will be Billy Scott, who worked with Danica Patrick the last two seasons.

Early in his career, Gibson worked as a car chief for 1992 Cup champion Alan Kulwicki. His crew chief career in Cup began in 1994 for six races on the No. 44 Ford owned by Charles Hardy.

Since then, Gibson has worked 440 Cup races from the top of a pit box, earning six wins. The last was in the 2017 Daytona 500 with Busch.

Gibson has also worked with Patrick, Bill Elliott, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Michael Waltrip and more.

Gibson was one of the last remaining crew chiefs who did not have a background in engineering.

“I’m not a paper guy, I’m not a computer guy” Gibson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I like to go out and talk to the guys and work with them and (figure out) how I can make their jobs easier. It takes some of the experience I’ve had over the last 31 years and put(s) it in play. How can I help some of these younger guys … like John Klausmeier (crew chief for Almirola) and Billy Scott and all those guys, give them a good shot at being a crew chief and making a career out of it?”

 and on Facebook

Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne lead Cup drivers in Twitter followers

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The landscape of NASCAR has changed dramatically over the last few years, especially with the recent retirements of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth and the pending retirement of Danica Patrick following the Daytona 500.

How do their departures impact the Twitter landscape when it comes announced full-time Cup drivers for 2018 and their number of followers?

A lot, specifically at the top.

Before getting to the list, here’s a few notes:

Here are how many Twitter followers each full-time Cup driver has as of Jan. 2, 2018. We’ll revisit this list in December to see how the drivers rank after the season.

Jimmie Johnson – 2,636,014 (@jimmiejohnson)

Kasey Kahne – 963,189 (@kaseykahne)

Kevin Harvick – 954,433 (@kevinharvick)

Kyle Busch – 899,151 (@kylebusch)

Brad Keselowski – 766,394 (@keselowski)

Denny Hamlin – 763,325 (@dennyhamlin)

Chase Elliott – 733,157 (@chaseelliott)

Clint Bowyer – 626,345 (@ClintBowyer)

Joey Logano – 472,237 (@joeylogano)

Martin Truex Jr. – 423,074 (@MartinTruex_Jr)

Ryan Newman – 367,002 (@RyanJNewman)

Kyle Larson – 349,659 (@kylelarsonracin)

Kurt Busch – 342,699 (@KurtBusch)

Jamie McMurray – 317,209 (@jamiemcmurray)

Trevor Bayne – 272,939 (@TBayne6)

Austin Dillon – 270,967 (@AustinDillon3)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 227,632 (@StenhouseJr)

AJ Allmendinger – 217,197 (@AJDinger)

Ryan Blaney – 161,730 (@Blaney)

Ty Dillon – 156,602 (@TyDillon)

Darrell Wallace Jr. – 126,473 (@BubbaWallace)

David Ragan – 121,643 (@DavidRagan)

Aric Almirola – 112,423 (@aric_almirola)

Michael McDowell – 88,435 (@Mc_Driver)

Alex Bowman – 58,194 (@AlexBRacing)

Erik Jones – 53,041 (@erik_jones)

Matt DiBenedetto – 49,495 (@MattDRacing)

Daniel Suarez – 41,081 (@Daniel_SuarezG)

Chris Buescher – 38,981 (@Chris_Buescher)

William Byron – 36,169 (@WilliamByron)

Before the season stars, be sure to follow all of our NASCAR writers: