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NASCAR Cup Atlanta II

Aric Almirola: "Things have to go our way, eventually"

As a NASCAR Cup driver who has fared well on the series’ superspeedways, Aric Almirola hopes this season’s return visit to Atlanta this weekend can provide the jumpstart he needs.

Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, Smithfield Ford Mustang

Two of Almirola’s three career Cup wins have come on the superspeedways of Dayton and Talladega and since its reconfiguration in the 2021 offseason, Atlanta Motor Speedway now joins that club even though it is just 1.54 miles in length.

The track was repaved, and the banking was increased from 24 to 28 degrees. In addition, the track width decreased from 55 feet to 40 feet in the corners.

The series’ first race on the new design featured 46 lead changes among 20 different drivers – both track records.

Almirola finished 22nd after leading six laps at Atlanta in March 2022, and returned in July 2022 to post an eighth-place finish. In his most recent start this past March, he started fifth and led 17 laps before cutting a tire while leading, ultimately ending his day.

“I have always enjoyed going to Atlanta. It has been a place that we are so fast as a race team,” Almirola, 39, said. “It’s been a place where we have led a lot of laps recently and I look forward to going there knowing we can put ourselves in a position to win.

“Unfortunately, both times we have led laps we have been wrecked out or cut a tire from the lead toward the end of the race. Things have to go our way, eventually, and I know we can put ourselves back in that position again this weekend.”

Almirola was talking specifically about his performances at Atlanta, but he could have easily been capsulizing his 2023 season, which has been a struggle from the start.

His 12th-place finish in last weekend’s inaugural Chicago Street Race was his second-best finish of the year. He has one top-10 finish through 18 races – a sixth at Martinsville, Va.

It’s not exactly the return Almirola was hoping for when he decided to delay his planned retirement from the Cup series.

He and his No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team have yet to announce whether he will return for the 2024 season.

As for the work that went into the redesign of Atlanta, Almirola gives it high grades.

Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, Smithfield Ford Mustang and Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing, King's Hawaiian Ford Mustang

Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, Smithfield Ford Mustang and Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing, King's Hawaiian Ford Mustang

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

“It’s not quite a superspeedway and it’s not quite a mile-and-a-half style. It has the style of a superspeedway, but it also has the handling and drivability of a mile-and-a-half track,” he explained. “I would grade Atlanta an ‘A-plus.’

“We’re going to a track that is crazy fast. It is by far the fastest mile-and-a-half race track that we go to. As a race car driver, we all want to go fast. That checks a box for me, and the speedway racing we get where we’re packed in, all racing on top of each other, the fans love it.

“They love seeing the cars all bunched together instead of all spread out, so I give Atlanta a big ‘A’ from my standpoint.”

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