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Almirola: Reversing Course Was A Family Decision

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 27 2022

Aric Almirola has reconsidered his decision to retire. He will be back in a Stewart-Haas car next season. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Seven months after Aric Almirola announced the 2022 season would be his final full-time year in the NASCAR Cup Series, the Florida native said Friday he had reversed his decision at his sponsor’s request and with the support of his family.

“When Shane Smith called me, the CEO of (my sponsor) Smithfield and said, ‘Hey, we really want you to reconsider retiring. We want you to come back and drive our race car.’ It’s really hard to say no,” Almirola said during a press conference at Daytona International Speedway.

“I did tell him, ‘Let me talk to (my wife) Janice and let me think about it, let me pray about it,’ and we did and there was a lot of back-and-forth discussion.  Ultimately, it just feels right.”

When Almirola announced his impending retirement in February at the beginning of Speedweek, he said it was a family decision and he emphasized the day before Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 that was still the case.

“Janice and the kids and I talked a lot about it. Alex was still trying to Go-Kart race on the weekends, occasionally,” Almirola recounted. “We were playing flag football on Saturdays. I was watching Go-Kart races on Facetime videos. I was watching flag football games on Facetime videos. I was watching Abby horseback ride on Facetime videos, and I was sitting at the track in my motorhome. I was like, ‘Man, what am I doing?’

“I think the person that probably had the most sacrifice involved is Janice.”

However, when the decision was made that Almirola would continue racing the couple’s children “were ecstatic” because “they still get to come and be with their friends.” 

Almirola’s 9-year-old son Alex was one month old when he attended his first race. His daughter, 8-year-old Abby, was three months old. 

“Our kids don’t know any different,” Almirola explained. “They don’t know really what life looks like away from the race track. They have their friends at school and then they come to the race track on the weekends and they have their friends at the race track.

“There is a community that is involved and associated with what we do. This year, I took the opportunity to really soak it all up and embrace this year. I found a renewed sense of what a work/life balance looks like this year.”

By the time the season ends in November, Almirola’s family will have attended about 28 races. His children’s activities have been rescheduled to where most of them occur during the week so he can attend them. In fact, he’s an assistant coach for his son’s baseball team. The school the children attend have satellite classes on Friday.

“Our family dynamic has changed,” Almirola said. “Ultimately, my family is the most important thing to me. Through this year Janice and I just found a wonderful balance to where I can still be the husband that I want to be and the father that I want to be.

“We did some really cool stuff this year. I forgot just what a wonderful opportunity it is to be a race car driver. We’ve just really taken this year to kind of embrace it and soak it all up, and I think as a family we’re not ready for it to end.”

Still, Almirola wouldn’t have been talking about his upcoming 12th season in the sport if it hadn’t been for Smithfield. The company that has operated on a year-to-year sponsorship contract has now signed a multi-year deal with Stewart-Haas Racing. Almirola also noted the company’s investment in the sport and the race team had returned to 2018-19 levels. 

“That was one thing that really hit home for me was when I talked to Shane (Smith),” Almirola said. “He came down here to the Daytona 500 this year and that was his first race in many, many, many years. He grew up in North Carolina and was a fan of this sport way back when. He’s been running the European operations for Smithfield for the last 10 years or so. 

“He has now been promoted to CEO and he came to the Daytona 500 and was blown away when he walked around and just seeing the level of excitement, the enthusiasm for this sport, the sold-out grandstands, the viewership … all of the campers that are here throughout the infield, everybody tailgating and cooking out. Shane said, ‘These are our people. These are our customers. We’ve been marketing to them and telling them a story and trying to get support for our brand from this core group of people for 11 years. We’re heavily invested in this market, and we want to continue to be.’”

Even though it was reported last week that Almirola was returning to his No. 10 Ford in 2023, the 38-year-old driver said the deal wasn’t finalized until this week. 

“You have to remember that I’ve been part of Smithfield for 11 years,” Almirola said. “In that 11 years, they’ve been through four CEOs. We’ve been through multiple different marketing executives and executives throughout the entire executive level office, so I feel very engrained there. I feel like I’ve done my part as an ambassador for their brand to build relationships, not only with the key people, but the entire organization because as things moved and shuffled and changed inside their organization, it’s still never wavered in their support of this sport and me.”  

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 27 2022
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