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.”

Stewart-Haas Racing to make 1,000th Cup start in Texas race

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Stewart-Haas Racing continues to hit historic milestones in its 10th season of Cup competition.

Through just six races it boasts four wins with two of its drivers, including three consecutive for Kevin Harvick (a first in his career).

At Phoenix, the team put all four of its cars in the top 10 for the first time since becoming a four-car operation in 2014.

Entering this weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, SHR has four wins, six top-five finishes and 11 top 10s.

When the engines are fired on the Fords of Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, they will give SHR 1,000 Cup starts. That number does not include the 284 starts from 2002-08 when the team was known as Haas-CNC.

“That makes me feel really, really old,” SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli said in a press release. “Seriously, a thousand starts is a sign of longevity and that’s an accomplishment. It helps in keeping good people and recruiting good people.”

After Tony Stewart became co-owner of the team founded by Gene Haas, the first start for SHR was the 2009 Daytona 500.

Stewart and Ryan Newman rolled off the grid for the team. Stewart started fifth and finished eighth, while Newman started and finished 36th.

Stewart earned the first of the team’s 43 wins that June at Pocono Raceway. Bowyer claimed the most recent win last weekend at Martinsville Speedway. It was Bowyer’s first win in 190 starts and his first with SHR after joining the team in 2017.

“Make no mistake, all four Stewart-Haas cars have been good all year-long,” Bowyer said in a press release. “Kevin led that charge when he won three races in a row, but we’ve been ‘Steady Eddie’ with our 14 car and the things that I’ve always been accustomed to. Consistency and things like that I’m starting to see, knowing our strengths, knowing our weaknesses from last year, focusing on those weaknesses and then, all of a sudden, it starts to click in and putting things together, and you have those conversations. You feel confidence.”

Since 2009, SHR has also fielded cars for Danica Patrick, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Brian Vickers, Regan Smith, Ty Dillon, Austin Dillon and Max Papis.

In 996 starts, SHR has 199 top fives, 378 top 10s, 35 poles and two championships in 2011 (Stewart) and 2014 (Harvick).

SHR has won on every active Cup track except for Kentucky Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

Most starts among active Cup wins

Hendrick Motorsports – 3,867

Roush Fenway Racing – 3,533

Richard Childress Racing – 2,857

Joe Gibbs Racing – 2,188

Team Penske – 1,957

Wood Brothers Racing – 1,516

Chip Ganassi Racing – 1,075 (does not include the five years and 367 starts when the team was known as Earnhardt Ganassi Racing)

Stewart-Haas Racing – 996

 

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Travis Mack named crew chief for Kasey Kahne in 2018

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Kasey Kahne will be paired with crew chief Travis Mack in 2018 in his first season in the No. 95 Chevrolet owned by Leavine Family Racing.

It will be Mack’s first full season as a Cup Series crew chief. He currently serves as the car chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports.

Kahne will replace Michael McDowell in the No. 95 after six seasons driving the No. 5 for Hendrick.

Mack experienced his first race as a crew chief this season in the regular-season finale at Richmond when Greg Ives was suspended.

A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Mack joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2004. He moved to JR Motorsports in 2013, where he served as car chief for Regan Smith and Chase Elliott during Elliott’s 2014 championship season in the Xfinity Series. He became car chief on the No. 88 Cup car in 2015.

“As crew chief, Travis brings leadership and a solid experience to Leavine Family Racing,” said Jeremy Lange, VP and general manager of LFR in a press release. “His passion for racing and desire to win will fit well in our organization and, collectively, we all are looking forward to 2018 and beyond.”

Mack will remain with the No. 88 team through the end of the season.

MORE: Travis Mack delivers own baby daughter

Cody Coughlin fastest in first of two Truck practices at Talladega

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Given that it’s Friday the 13th, it’s fitting that Cody Coughlin — driver of the No. 13 Toyota — was fastest in the first of two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practices Friday morning at Talladega Superspeedway.

Coughlin had a top speed of 191.719 mph around the 2.66-mile, high-banked oval, the largest track in NASCAR.

John Hunter Nemechek was second at 191.260 mph, followed by Regan Smith (190.518), Las Vegas winner Ben Rhodes (190.465), Grant Enfinger (190.374), Justin Haley (190.370), Johnny Sauter (190.208), Parker Kligerman (189.858), Matt Crafton (189.451) and Kaz Grala (189.058).

Points leader Christopher Bell was 17th fastest at 181.470 mph.

A total of 30 Trucks took to the track for the session.

The second and final practice session will be this afternoon from 2 – 2:55 p.m. ET on FS1.

Click here for the full practice speed chart.

Johnny Sauter wins Truck Series race at Chicago

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Johnny Sauter led the final 28 laps to win the Camping World Truck Series race at Chicagoland Speedway.

The win, in the regular-season finale, is the second of the year for the GMS Racing driver.

Sauter beat Chase Briscoe, Christopher Bell, Ryan Truex and Grant Enfinger. Sauter took the lead from Bell before racing to the win.

“This is what we needed, this is the momentum, this is the shot in the arm,” Sauter told Fox Sports 1.

Ben Rhodes, who finished sixth, earned the last spot in the playoffs via a tiebreaker over Truex.

Rhodes bounced back from a pit penalty and a second pit stop under yellow to race into the playoffs.

“Man, I still can’t believe it,” Rhodes told FS1. “They gave me the (playoff) hat and I’m like, ‘Are you sure this is ours?’ They said we were tied and we got the tiebreaker. I can’t believe it. The truck, all night we struggled. Ever since we unloaded here this has been by far our worst performance overall. It couldn’t come in a worse week to do it. I’m glad we’re in. Overall, everything worked out for us.”

Competing for the Truck Series title will be Bell, Sauter, John Hunter Nemechek, Matt Crafton, Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Rhodes and Kaz Grala.

Truex lost out on a playoff spot after sitting on his first pole and leading 30 laps.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Ryan Truex

STAGE 2 WINNER: Christopher Bell

MORE: Points standings

MORE: Race results

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: John Hunter Nemechek finished seventh for his eighth top 10 … Myatt Snider finished 10th after bouncing back from a spin with six laps to go in Stage 1. It’s his second top 10 in five Truck Series starts … Regan Smith finished 12th. He’s finished in the top 15 in eight of his nine starts. He’s finished 12th four times. … Tyler Young finished 13th for his best result in six starts this season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: After making contact with Rhodes during the Stage 3 restart, Matt Crafton dropped through the field before spinning on Lap 106. He finished 16th … Gray Gaulding only made it one lap before his No. 15 truck stalled, bringing out the caution. He continued but fell out on Lap 25 with a fuel pump issue.

NOTABLE: Christopher Bell enters the postseason as the regular-season champion thanks to his four wins. That gives him 15 extra playoff points … Chase Briscoe remains winless despite five finishes in the top three this season.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “It’s tough, but it’s racing. We did everything we could aside from win.” – Ryan Truex after missing out on the playoffs due to a tiebreaker with Ben Rhodes.

NEXT: UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway at 1 p.m. ET on Sept. 23 on Fox Sports 1.