Aric Almirola Heads to Homestead for Some Home Cooking in the No. 18 Banquet Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 14, 2007) -- Whenever Aric Almirola thinks about racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he gets a happy feeling in his stomach.
A trip to the Greater Miami area means comfort food for the 23-year-old from Tampa, who will be behind the wheel of the No. 18 Banquet Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series Ford 300. The No. 18 Banquet Chevrolet has been at the center of Banquet's Family Race Nights promotion this season, where winners receive family race night parties at their home during a race. This weekend's trip brings with it a heavy dose of family race night fun, fueled with empanadas, fried plantains and Cuban sandwiches for Almirola, whose father, Ralph, left his native Cuba as a four-year-old during the Freedom Flights of the 1960s and lived for a brief time in Miami before settling in Tampa.
Ralph Almirola had never even seen a race car when his father-in-law, Florida racing legend Sam Rodriguez, took him under his wing and made him his crew chief during a successful career that included consecutive Tampa Bay Area Sprint Racing Association titles from 1990 to 1992. Young Aric quickly became a fixture at racetracks throughout the Sunshine State and the Southeast, traveling with his father and grandfather. Aric got into go-karts under his grandfather's guidance at the age of eight, and the rest is history.
This weekend, Aric embarks on his 27th career Busch Series event, all of which have come with JGR since signing on as a development driver via its diversity program in 2004, and he hopes to close this latest chapter in his young racing life on a winning note.
In 2008, Almirola moves to Dale Earnhardt Inc., (DEI) full-time to share driving duties in the No. 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chevrolet with veteran Mark Martin. Almirola is already credited with a Busch Series victory at Milwaukee this season while qualifying on the pole and starting the race for JGR's Cup Series regular Denny Hamlin. This weekend, on a track where he took part in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event a year ago, Almirola would like nothing better than to take the checkered flag all by himself.
Aric Almirola -- driver of the No. 18 Banquet Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series race at Homestead:
Considering your Cuban heritage, and the fact that your father's first stop when he came to this country was Miami, is Homestead-Miami Speedway a special place for you to go racing?
"It does have a lot of meaning. My dad lived in Miami with his aunt for a few months before they moved to Tampa and settled down. The biggest thing that hits home with me is the food down there. They have a lot of Cuban and Spanish food that I'm extremely fond of. I love the food, and I really miss that. Both my grandparents are really good at cooking Spanish food. I don't get that up in Charlotte (N.C.), so that's the one thing I look forward to whenever I go down there. Fried bananas, plantains, empanadas, Cuban sandwiches -- I get excited about going to Homestead for that more than anything. It makes me realize what I miss living in Charlotte."
You're down to your final race with JGR before moving over to DEI full-time in 2008. What are your thoughts as you prepare to turn the page in your career?
"I'm really excited about this weekend. >From the run I had with the 18 team at Charlotte, and the fact they really had the car to beat, without a doubt, at Texas, I'm really looking forward to going down there, and I'm definitely going to let it all hang out. Whatever happens, happens. Those guys deserve a good run and I'm going to try to give it to them. Hopefully, we can put the Banquet Chevy in victory lane."
What do you know about the fast way around the Homestead oval?
"I've only been to Homestead once, last year in the Craftsman Truck Series race, so I don't have much seat time there. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to it. I think we'll have a really good run. I'm just excited to be back with all those (JGR) guys one last time. I just plan on having a lot of fun and letting it all hang loose. We don't have anything to lose. The race track is pretty fun. It widens out. The top lane really goes well there. It makes for some really fun races. Only being there once in a Truck, I don't know the fastest way around the track in a Busch car, yet. But I will, soon enough."