Almirola and Owens hoping for big weekend at Richmond

Both men spoke about their season to date and on Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway.

Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion, along with crew chief Trent Owens, were this week’s guests on the NASCAR teleconference.

Aric Almirola – No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion – WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK THIS WEEKEND? “I always get excited about going to Richmond. I like the race track a lot and besides the race track it’s a big weekend for us with Smithfield Foods headquarters being right there nearby in Richmond. We get a lot of people come out from Smithfield headquarters and it’s just a big weekend. It’s a lot of fun and I enjoy the race track. This is where I made my first Nationwide start and I’ve just got a lot of good memories from there, and I’ve always run well there it seems like, so I’m excited about going to Richmond this weekend.”

Trent Owens, Crew Chief – No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion – HOW HAS IT BEEN IN YOUR FIRST YEAR WITH RPM? “It’s been really good. We made the move here in December and I enjoy working with Aric. Everything has been going pretty good so far, I think. Going into Richmond, I’m really looking forward to that race. Our short track program seems to be in a decent direction this year. We’ve got some work to do on our mile-and-a-half, but I’m really looking forward to getting in front of the Smithfield folks and putting on a good show. I really like night racing, so I look forward to any night race, but the transition has gone well. I enjoy the people here. I enjoy the work environment and I couldn’t ask for a better place to make the transition from the Nationwide to the Sprint Cup, so I’m looking forward to the rest of the year.”

ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED – HOW MUCH OF AN ISSUE IS A LACK OF TRACK TIME COMPARED TO GUYS WHO MAY HAVE 15-20 RACES AT ONE PLACE? “Certainly it’s an advantage to have more experience at race tracks because when you show up you know exactly what to expect and what to look for in your race car to be fast. A lot of these places we go, the race track is so different in the race than how it is in practice and qualifying, so having that experience obviously pays off and helps out. I don’t think it’s that big of a disadvantage (for me) because I’ve been to a lot of the race tracks now enough times to where I understand the race tracks and I feel like I’ve been to all the race tracks enough. I’d say 85 percent of them I’ve had good runs at one time or another at them, so I feel like I understand what it takes to go fast as most of the race tracks we go to. There are still a handful of race tracks that are not my strong suit, and that I’ve continued to struggle with a little bit, but, for the most part, I don’t think it’s that big of a disadvantage but I’d certainly take more experience but that will come over time.”

DO YOU KNOW THE FEEL YOU’RE LOOKING FOR WHEN YOU GO TO A TRACK NOW? “Yeah. Richmond is a place I actually have a lot of laps at. The very first time I got to drive a truck it was a two-day test at Richmond back in 2004 or 2005. I’ve done a lot of testing there in trucks and Nationwide cars and even Cup cars back when we were allowed to go test. I made my first Nationwide start there. I think I’ve run quite a few Nationwide races there and made quite a few Cup starts there, so I think I have a really good understanding of what it takes to run good at Richmond and I’ve had good runs there. Last spring we ran pretty good there. I think we finished in the top five or maybe top 10, I’m not sure, but then in the fall race I thought we had an even better car than we had in the spring race, but we had an incident on pit road during a green flag stop that ended up getting us a couple laps down and hurt our day, but, overall, I think when I go to Richmond I’ve got a really good understanding of what it takes. That’s one of the race tracks I was telling you about where the race is so much different than practice. There are a few things you look for in practice to get your car to do that will help in the race, but, for the most part, practice is pretty tough to gauge on how your race is gonna go.”

TRENT OWENS CONTINUED – WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN AS FAR AS STRATEGY IN CUP AND HAS IT BEEN AN ADJUSTMENT FOR YOU COMING FROM NATIONWIDE? “I think the biggest thing with the rules change in the Chase format, I think people are a lot more aggressive than year’s past, so it’s really hard to compare. But the Cup Series is a little bit more conservative mode – a lot more four-tire changes through the middle portions of the race. You’ve got a lot more time to work on your car, which, in my seat, is a lot nicer. You always feel rushed sometimes in Nationwide, like this is your last chance to get it right. Actually, the strategy calling in the Cup race has been a welcome change, but I have noticed a few of the guys out there making real aggressive calls towards the end of the race, and I’m sure that’s driven by the Chase format, which is a good thing. The whole scope of the garage has probably changed a little bit in race calling just based on our points.”

YOU GOT TO WORK WITH KYLE LARSON IN NATIONWIDE. HOW HAS THIS YOUNGER GENERATION HAD AN IMPACT? “I feel very fortunate because I was able to do the K&N East races while I worked at Turner Motorsports for Ryan Blaney and got to experience what a talent he is as well, and then to have a full season with Kyle Larson as well last year. He’s an amazing young talent and a very mature racer – no more experience than he had – and I think you can agree to that now that you’ve seen him run, but it’s been good to see the young guys come in and see what mature racers they are now. You see it out of Chase Elliott. It’s not like year’s past when a guy came in as a rookie. A lot of rookies now are very mature when it comes to the race track and race conditions. They probably have a bigger challenge on the personal side of the business more so than the race track and I think you see that, but it was a lot of fun. I can tell you that working with Kyle last year I felt like I developed even better as a crew chief, having a rookie like he was without any experience in NASCAR and being able to teach him some things helped me along too. I think Aric is a great talent as well and I don’t think he’s shown his ability on the race track just yet, and I think he’s just as good as any of those guys. I still think that we have a shot to win some races this year and I’m looking forward to that.”

HOW DID WORKING WITH YOUNGER DRIVERS HELP YOU THIS YEAR? “I think the biggest thing working last year with Kyle was he didn’t know a whole lot about how the cars are put together or how the cars are built or how the setups are driven, so I was able to look at things more so in the past with an open mind, trying things with him that I normally wouldn’t have been able to try with more experienced drivers. I think there was a lot of development with that and then obviously with NASCAR making the setup changes this year in the Sprint Cup Series it opened a lot of new ideas. I think from my experience and what we did last year helped me in the transition into this season. I think it was a great year for any crew chief to make the transition into Cup with the setup changes, and I think that’s kind of helped the development just already having that mindset coming in.”

WHAT WILL IT MEAN TO HAVE RICHARD BACK AT THE TRACK THIS WEEKEND? “I think he’s doing well. I think being back at the race track is gonna be good for our race team and good for him. I think it’ll be good medicine. When something like that happens you kind of want to hide a little bit and just get your feelings straight, but he’s been by the shop and been in good spirits and I think he’s doing very well considering. We’re looking forward to getting him back at the race track and getting him back into race mode.”

ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED – WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE RICHARD BACK THIS WEEKEND? “I’ve spent quite a bit of time with him over the last few weeks since Miss Lynda passed, and it’s gonna be great to have our leader back at the race track. He’s the name and the face of our company and all the guys on the race team, any myself included, look up to him and enjoy having him around at the race track and having him inside the hauler and talking to us after practice and getting his perspective on what he sees with other race cars and with our race cars throughout practice, so I’m excited about having him back at the race track and, like Trent said, I think it’s gonna be good medicine for him. He comes to about 95 percent of the races every year, so for him to take the two or three weeks off that he’s taken, I know he’s itching to get back to the race track. I spent all day yesterday with him in Nashville and he’s looking forward to coming back to the race track in Richmond. He’s our leader. He’s the guy we all look up to and I’m excited about having him at the track and I think it will boost all the guys’ morale and the team too to see him around and walking around and having him back hanging around at the hauler.”

HAS THE KING BEEN WATCHING RACES? HAS HE CRITIQUED PERFORMANCE FROM AFAR OR JUST CONCENTRATING ON PERSONAL THINGS? “He watches the races. I think he’s taken the time to spend some time at home and, like Trent said, collect his thoughts and get his feelings straight, but you can’t take the racer out of that guy. He’s not gonna sit at home and just sit around and do nothing. He’s been watching the practices and watching qualifying and watching the races and Dale Inman goes home on Sunday night and gives him the full report on what went down that weekend and how things went. He’s still heavily involved and he’s still been paying attention for sure, he just hasn’t been at the race track. He knows everything that’s been going on. He knows what we’ve been struggling with and what we’ve been doing good at, and he gets a full report every Monday. He’s been coming by the shop and seeing the guys and talking to Trent and Drew and everybody. He’s still been very involved, he just hasn’t been at the track.”

TRENT OWENS CONTINUED – WHAT’S THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE AT RICHMOND? “The biggest challenge is exactly what he said – our practice time is just not even close to what we race in, so you try to make adjustments that you can put in the back of your head for the race when it’s time to do some different things. The brake stuff, all of the components have just gotten so good now. We’ve experienced little problems with that stuff, so I hope he didn’t jinx us. But practice is so tough. The tires wear out at Richmond, but that does provide for good racing when the racing starts, so you really want to be good off the hauler and just kind of work on a few things and maybe mock up some practice changes that duplicate your race stuff, but practicing during the day and racing at night at a place like Richmond is just so much different.”

ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED – HAS YOUR SHORT TRACK EXPERIENCE IN THE TAMPA AREA TRANSFERRED TO THIS LEVEL? “I don’t think so. Obviously, I enjoy racing short tracks and that’s what I grew up doing, but that’s what everybody grows up doing. I don’t know anybody that grew up racing at mile-and-a-half race tracks, so I don’t think that gives me an advantage or anything like that. In years past at Richard Petty Motorsports our mile-and-a-half program has really been our strong suit and I kind of dreaded going to the short tracks. Even though I like them, I kind of dreaded it just because I knew our short track program wasn’t very good and it was a struggle just to run 20th. We had to fight tooth and nail, and it’s kind of flip-flopped on us. Our short-track program has been a lot better this year and we’ve been really competitive on all of the short tracks, and our mile-and-a-half program has actually been struggling. We’re working really hard on that mile-and-a-half program to get that better. As far as the short track stuff goes, I feel like I’ve always had a pretty good feel for short-track racing. I think some of my natural habits works well with short-track racing, but I don’t want to take credit for my short-track racing in Florida helping me on the Cup schedule because I think every race car driver that I race against grew up short-track racing, whether it was on dirt or asphalt. We all have done it and I think we all really enjoy it, too. That’s why when you see guys with an opportunity to go back and do some late model racing or sprint car racing, as long as their owners agree, they take the opportunity to go do it because we all enjoy it.”

TRENT OWENS CONTINUED – DO CREW CHIEFS EXPERIENCE DIFFERENT CHALLENGES AS YOU GO UP THROUGH THE VARIOUS LEVELS? “I think in some ways, yes. The Camping World Truck and the Nationwide Series are very close and alike. Making the step to Sprint Cup obviously a lot of things change, especially with the competition level getting a lot steeper, but as far as preparing race cars, as far as going to the race track, doing your thing through practice, they’re pretty much all the same thing rules of the road there. A lot of that stuff doesn’t change. The Cup side is just so much bigger, you’ve got so many more people involved and to deal with. A lot of that side of the business comes into play on a crew chief’s role than you see in the other series, so there is definitely an adjustment with each series. But I do think working in the Nationwide Series is a good series to get to the Cup level from. I think there’s a lot of similarities, especially with the chassis and some of the things you fight on the aero side, so I would say if you’re going to make the transition you would probably do best to do Nationwide first.”

ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED – HOW MUCH INFORMATION TO YOU GET FROM RICHARD BEFORE AND DURING THE RACE? “That’s a loaded question (laughing). He gives us a lot of information about different things about different race tracks and what they did back in the sixties and seventies and stuff like that, but I think the biggest thing for me is that there are things I can pick up on what he says about different race tracks, but it’s so different now from when he was so successful. In the sixties and seventies he won how many races at Martinsville? I think it was like 19 races or something and the biggest reason he won all those races was he kept his brakes on the car better than anybody else, and we don’t have those issues anymore. It wasn’t that his car turned way better than anybody else or anything like that, he was really good at saving his tires and he was really good at preserving the brakes on his car and when everybody else ran out of brakes with 100 to go, he still had more brakes than everybody else – and probably more of the same at Richmond, too. So there are some things that I can pick up from him as far as some of the race tracks we go to and the things that we’ll fight and struggle with, and the things that he might have done, but the one thing I will say that I pick up on from him the most is during practice he’ll stand up on top of the hauler and he’ll watch me and the other cars, and Dale Inman will stand up there too. Dale is really big on taking lap times with a stop watch and he’ll also take corner splits, and after practice he’ll come down and they’ll talk with me and tell me, ‘so-and-so was running the middle of three and four and his corner splits were a tenth-and-a-half better,’ or ‘you were really beating these guys through one and two,’ so that’s the one thing that I think I pick up on the most from Richard and Dale on when they’re at the race track is just what they observe on that weekend.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT STANLEY HAS PLANNED WITH THE CHILDREN’S MIRACLE NETWORK AT RICHMOND? “It’s a really cool weekend. It’s a big weekend for us with Smithfield Foods on the car and being so close to Smithfield, Virginia, but Marcos’ sponsor, Stanley, has got a big activation this week and they’re doing a lot with ACE Hardware and the Children’s Miracle Network, and they’re raising a lot of money and it potentially could be a lot more money if Marcos wins or runs in the top five to benefit the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. I think they’re bringing four kids from the Children’s Miracle Network to be honorary crew members on Marcos’ team and we’re gonna go out and sign autographs and do a little bit of a fundraising event on Friday morning before practice, so that’s exciting. Any time you can get involved with a community and give back and engage the younger crowd and younger fans in our sport is really fun. I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities to do stuff like this through our sponsor Smithfield and then the last couple years with Stanley, they’ve done this year after year, so it’s a lot of fun to be able to have that opportunity to get involved and give back, and to see the expressions on those kids’ face when they get to come into the pit area and check out the race cars and to be honorary crew members, so it’s gonna be a fun weekend for us.”

Ford Racing

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Series INDYCAR
Article type Interviews
Tags aric almirola, richmond, trent owens