BUSCH: Charlotte II: Aric Almirola preview

Aric Almirola Takes Slim Jim Monster Stick Chevrolet to the 'Beast of the Southeast' in NASCAR Busch Series Race at Charlotte HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 9, 2007) -- If Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway President and General Manager Humpy Wheeler...

Aric Almirola Takes Slim Jim Monster Stick Chevrolet to the 'Beast of the Southeast' in NASCAR Busch Series Race at Charlotte

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 9, 2007) -- If Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway President and General Manager Humpy Wheeler calls his race track the "Beast of the Southeast," then it's appropriate that Aric Almirola will drive the No. 18 Slim Jim Monster Stick Chevrolet in Friday night's Dollar General 300 NASCAR Busch Series race.

Almirola will make his 19th Busch Series start of the season at Charlotte and his second behind the wheel of the No. 18 Slim Jim Monster Stick Chevrolet, and he'll do it for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), the team for which Almirola began his NASCAR career.

After beating out over 200 applicants, Almirola caught his break with JGR's diversity program in 2004. The Tampa, Fla.-native of Cuban descent quickly made the most of his opportunity. By winning early and often, Almirola advanced from late model stock cars on the short tracks of the Southeast to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and then to the Busch Series.

After being recognized at the age of 19 by JGR, the 23-year-old Almirola has since been recognized by NASCAR veteran Mark Martin. In 2008, Almirola and Martin will share the No. 8 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, a ride made famous by the sport's most popular driver -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.

But before Almirola makes the next step in his meteoric rise to the pinnacle of NASCAR, he wants to get a win with the team that brought him to NASCAR.

Technically, Almirola has that win, and the record book will show that it came on June 23 at The Milwaukee Mile. But unlike most race winners, Almirola wasn't in victory lane to receive the trophy. That honor went to his teammate Denny Hamlin, who took over for Almirola on lap 57 of the 250-lap race, and then drove to victory.

While commonplace in sports car racing, co-drivers are rare in NASCAR. Yet, that's exactly what Almirola and Hamlin were in Milwaukee. And since Almirola started the race, he was credited with the win, while Hamlin, who pulled into the winner's circle and accepted the trophy, was not.

Almirola wants a race win of his own, along with a Busch beer-soaked victory lane celebration. He could very well get both this weekend at Charlotte, as he readies for his 26th career Busch Series start and his third at Charlotte.

Charlotte has proven to be a solid venue for Almirola. In three previous NASCAR starts on the 1.5-mile tri-oval, he's finished no worse than 15th. In May of 2006, Almirola brought home a career-best Craftsman Truck Series finish of ninth. A year ago this weekend, he drove the No. 19 JGR Chevrolet to a 15th-place finish in the Busch race. And at this past spring's Busch race, he did one better by piloting JGR's No. 18 entry to 14th-place result.

Almirola is poised for his first victory with the No. 18 team Friday night under the lights at Charlotte. With his immediate racing future locked into place, Almirola feels there is nothing to lose, leaving him to go about his business this weekend more focused than ever on doing whatever it takes to win. And going out a winner would be the sweetest parting gift he could imagine.

Aric Almirola -- driver of the No. 18 Slim Jim Monster Stick Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series race at Charlotte:

Charlotte has been one of your more successful tracks in your relatively brief NASCAR career thus far. You must be looking forward to getting back there this weekend, correct?

"I've had a couple of good runs there in a Busch car and I ran well there in a (Craftsman) Truck. I'm looking forward to going there this weekend, and I'm really looking forward to finishing out my time at Gibbs with a really strong run. They've been really good to me and I just hope I can bring home a win, or at least a good run. I'd really like to get a win for them. Their cars are proven winners. Denny (Hamlin) has done it, and the 18 car has come close. Hopefully, we can get them what they deserve."

What is your outlook for this weekend's race?

"We'll have a good race car. We always do. Charlotte is a pretty tricky place since they repaved it. The track is pretty slick, and the tire that Goodyear brings is really hard. With that combination, you tend to slide around a bit when the tires are cold and new. But it seems the longer you run on the tires, the better they get. Hopefully, we'll hit on something that'll make our car take really off when the tires are newer, and make the car get through a long run without getting too tight. That's the balance we'll be looking for."

How are you feeling about where you are in your career? Are you where you thought you'd be?

"I'm happy with where I'm at. A year ago, at this Charlotte race, I was running a full-time Truck deal and about nine Busch races. Then, this year, I ran a partial Busch schedule with some (Nextel) Cup races. I would've liked to have run a full Busch schedule, but the opportunity just wasn't there. Now, with my switch over to DEI, I'm pretty excited about that and pretty excited about what the future holds. It does change things a little bit. I have something set for the next couple of years, so I don't necessarily have to tip-toe around. I still have a lot to learn and I still want to bring home a good finish. But before, it was a situation where I was just trying to keep a job. Now, I have a job and I have a future and it takes a little bit of the pressure off. I can relax and go racing and have fun. I'm excited about this weekend. These 18 guys have had a rough couple of weeks, so hopefully I can help them turn it around."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Denny Hamlin , Aric Almirola , Mark Martin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing