Aric Almirola: ‘We have the potential’ to win every week

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A year ago, Aric Almirola viewed his racing season like a “box of chocolates.”

Week-to-week “you never knew what you were gonna’ get,” Almirola said of his final season at Richard Petty Motorsports.

Almirola definitely didn’t expect to break his back in a May wreck at Kansas Speedway, where NASCAR races this weekend.

That injury forced Almirola out of the No. 43 for seven points races. He was replaced by Regan Smith, Billy Johnson and his eventual full-time replacement, Darrell Wallace Jr.

Friday at Kansas Speedway, Almirola said he exorcised any lingering demons from the track when he returned in the fall and finished ninth.

“I never really let my mind drift back to that place,” Almirola said. “To come back here and kind of get somewhat of redemption on the race track and sort of put that to bed and come here and run as well as we did and run top 10, I think it’s a non-issue.”

Eleven races into his first year at Stewart-Haas Racing, Almirola can say on a week-to-week basis, “I know what I’m gonna’ get.”

Entering tonight’s KC Masterpiece 400, in which he starts a season-best fourth, Almirola is three points out of 10th in the standings. At this point last year, he was 20th. He has four top-10 finishes this season and came within half a lap of winning the Daytona 500.

“Every week I know I’m gonna show up with a car that I know is gonna be fast and that it’s up to (crew chief) Johnny (Klausmeier) and myself to do the best that we can to make it a race-winning car. We have the product. We have the potential to have a race-winning car each and every week and we can see it internally amongst our teammates. We can look at what they have and that’s just gonna take time for Johnny and myself to continue to grow together and build a notebook together.”

Almirola made sure to point out just how inexperienced his team is, especially with Klausmeier, previously an engineer at SHR, at the helm.

“You’ve got to remember that Johnny is going on week 11 or week 12 of being a brand new crew chief,” Almirola said. “He was never crew chief in the Truck ranks and was never a crew chief in the Xfinity ranks, so having him and him being as new to it as it is, it’s gonna take him time to continue to evolve and develop. We’ve got a new lead race engineer that’s young and that’s one of the things that I think is so cool is that our team is really built for the future.”

Almirola is in search of his second career Cup victory. His first came in July 2014 at Daytona.

“Human nature is greed,” Almirola said. “You always want more, so if you would have told me going into the year before the season even started at Daytona that by Kansas in May we would be 11th in points, three points out of 10th and have an average finish of 12th, I would have probably said, ‘All right. That’s awesome. I’ll take it.'”

But he’s seen two of his teammates, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, win this year and seen Kurt Busch earn two top fives. It’s only fueled his “greed.”

But the 34-year-old driver has had the “calming voice” of owner Tony Stewart keep him in check.

“He’s been like, ‘Be patient. Your time is coming. Your group is young. Your group is new. You’re new to the organization. You’re meeting our expectations and then some,'” Almirola said. “So that’s just reassuring and it’s a confidence-builder for me.”

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: 1,000th Episode

NBCSN
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Today’s marks the 1,000th episode of NASCAR America and it airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

In celebrating this milestone, we’ll re-live some of the show’s best moments from our first 999 episodes.

Also on today’s show:

  • Joining the program, will be 7-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who will reflect on his 17-year partnership with Chad Knaus that will end following this season. He’ll also talk about his crew chief for 2019, Kevin Meendering.
  • Kansas native Clint Bowyer also joins the show to discuss racing in his home state, his passion for the Kansas City Chiefs and how he hopes to secure a spot in the Round of 8 this weekend.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Xfinity practice report from Kansas

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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Final Practice

Shane Lee posted the fastest lap in final practice for the Xfinity race with a speed of 179.480 mph.

He beat Ty Majeski (179.414 mph) by .011 seconds.

Playoff contender Christopher Bell (178.684), Austin Cindric (178.247, playoff contender) and Daniel Hemric (178.247, playoff contender) rounded out the top five.

Playoff contender Matt Tifft spun with three minutes remaining in final practice. He was 11th on the speed chart at the time with a speed of 177.206 mph.

Playoff contender Cole Custer (177.737) was ninth, Justin Allgaier (177.538) was 10th, Elliott Sadler (177.130) was 12th and Tyler Reddick (177.084) was the slowest 13th.

Click here for complete results

First Practice

Hemric posted  the fastest single lap in the first practice session for the Xfinity race at Kansas Speedway with a speed of 179.916 mph.

He beat Bell (179.659 mph) by .043 seconds.

Tyler Reddick (179.474, playoff contender), Shane Lee (179.462) and Austin Cindric (179.408) rounded out the top five.

Playoff contender Allgaier (178.832) was seventh fastest, Custer (178.725) was eighth, Tifft (178.660) was ninth and Sadler (177.585) was the slowest in 13th.

Click here for complete results

 

Ryan Blaney tops first Cup practice at Kansas, Kyle Larson wrecks

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Ryan Blaney posted the fastest single lap in the first practice session for the Kansas Cup race with a speed of 192.130 mph. Blaney enters the weekend 22 points below the cutoff line.

He beat Kyle Busch (191.768 mph) by .053 seconds.

Kevin Harvick (191.761), Joey Logano (191.632) and Chase Elliott (191.421) round out the top five

Kyle Larson‘s weekend continues to worsen. With 15 minutes remaining in Friday’s practice session, he got loose and made heavy contact with the wall. Larson will have to roll out a back up car and drop to the back of the field to start the race. Larson (189.288) was 20th on the speed chart at the time.

Regan Smith was the only driver who posted 10 consecutive laps. His average speed was 182.606 mph.

Click here for complete results

MORE: Kyle Larson loses 10 points, car chief suspended for Talladega penalty
MORE: Kyle Larson’s team loses appeal 

Kyle Larson’s weekend gets worse at Kansas Speedway: backup car

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A must-win situation for Kyle Larson got even tougher Friday afternoon at Kansas Speedway.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver slammed the Turn 2 wall during the opening Cup practice for Sunday’s cutoff race at the 1.5-mile oval, sustaining enough damage on the No. 42 Chevrolet to require a backup car. Larson said he was OK after a hard impact that he attributed to “really cold temperatures, really fast speeds and trying to get all you can.

“Yeah, I’m good,” Larson told NBCSN’s Dave Burns. “Just mad at myself for making a mistake. Got loose. I don’t know if I got on the splitter, but it didn’t turn and went straight.

“I hated we wrecked the primary car there. I’m sure the backup car will be fine. I’ve been in a backup car before here and went fast. Dig deep, work hard and see where we’ll be Sunday.”

Larson is 36 points below the cut line and 11th in the standings after a 10-point penalty at Talladega Superspeedway for an illegal repair to his damaged car. Only eight of the remaining 12 playoff drivers will advance after Kansas.

Chip Ganassi Racing lost its initial appeal of the penalty Friday morning at the track. Its final appeal will be heard Friday night.

During a media availability before practice, Larson said he viewed Kansas as a win-or-else proposition regardless of his points deficit. He led a race-high 101 laps and finished fourth in the May 12 race with what he believed was the best car

“In our position, we know what we have to do, I can be aggressive and run hard all race long,” he said. “At Chip Ganassi Racing, the mile-and-a-half tracks have been our best tracks. I know we’ll be fast and lead laps, and we just have to capitalize on that and win the race.”