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MENCS: New Year, New Team; Time for Almirola to Breakout in 18′

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Aric Almirola certainly had an up and down 2017 season. While his statistics weren’t something talked about on a weekly basis, it’s important to take into consideration he missed substantial seat time for many weeks due to being injured.

The Florida Native missed seven races due to a back injury he suffered in May at Kansas Speedway. Almirola was involved in a violent crash that also involved fellow competitors Danica Patrick and Joey Logano. Logano’s brake rotor exploded and while Almirola tried to avoid the wreck he was unsuccessful and would end up suffering a compression fracture in his back.

Almirola returned to racing in July for the Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and bring home his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford to a 24th place finish.

Having only raced in 29 of the 36 races on the Cup schedule Almirola had an average start of 22.4 to go along with an average finish of 18.8. He earned 3 top-5 finishes and 6 top-10s. At the start of the season it was projected that he would score four-top 15 finishes, but he would go on to earn 10. While a victory would have been nice the statistics certainly aren’t shabby having not run the full schedule.

It was announced in September that Almirola wouldn’t be returning to RPM for the 2018 season and neither would long-time sponsor Smithfield Foods.

While it came as somewhat of a surprise that the veteran driver wouldn’t be returning to the team that he had spent the last six MENCS seasons with, it had been rumored for a while before being officially confirmed.

Fast forward to November when yet another rumor that had swirled around the garage was confirmed. Almirola was announced as the driver for the No. 10 Ford Fusion for Stewart-Hass Racing with none other than Smithfield as a sponsor.

Even with confirmation it came as little surprise to the NASCAR community that Aric would be named the driver to take over the No. 10 with Danica Patrick leaving NASCAR. Why you ask? It seemed the obvious choice when Smithfield headed to Stewart-Hass first.

All of this begs the question: Is this move a career changer for Almirola and a chance for him to finally have that career breakthrough we’ve all hoped for? You bet.

Almirola spent six seasons with RPM and tallied his first and only MENCS victory thus far in his career. That victory came in the 2014 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway and it marked the first victory lane visit for the No. 43 since the 1999 season.

During his MENCS career he has his one lone win, 11 career top-five finishes, 31 top-10s and one pole.

This change could certainly be the change needed to turn around his career and tack on some more victories and a possible run for a championship.

Almirola as expected is excited for this new opportunity. “This is an unbelievable day for me to have this opportunity. I’ve worked my whole life, my whole career for an opportunity like this to come and be a part of a championship organization, Almirola stated.

John Klausmeier will be on top of the pit box as Crew Chief for Almirola and the No. 10 team this season. He’s no stranger to SHR. Klausmeier was a race engineer for the No. 41 SHR team last season, and does have one win under his resume from his one race as interim Crew Chief. That win came with Kurt Busch at Pocono Raceway in June of 2016.

When the season kicks off at Daytona International Speedway in February it will give us all our first look at Almirola with his new team. Daytona certainly isn’t a bad track to begin his new journey at. As mentioned previously his lone MENCS victory came at the Super Speedway and just last season he started off the season with a 4th place finish in The Great American Race.

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About Sarah Handy

Sarah Handy is a NASCAR writer. You can find her on Twitter at @SarahHandy85. A college student studying Communications/Public Relations Field and an Electronics Associate at Walmart. Sarah enjoys tweeting about racing, running, reading, puzzles, video games, and photography. Born and raised in Rhode Island, Sarah avidly follows all major New England Teams (Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins & Celtics) as well as a huge fan of what she considers her “home track” New Hampshire Motor Speedway which she attends each year.

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