BUSCH: Chicagoland: Aric Almirola preview

With Supplies from OfficeMax in Hand, Aric Almirola Looks to Erase Asterisk and Join Other First Time Winners at Chicagoland HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (July 10, 2007) -- Of the six NASCAR Busch Series races held at the still young Chicagoland...

With Supplies from OfficeMax in Hand, Aric Almirola Looks to Erase Asterisk and Join Other First Time Winners at Chicagoland

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (July 10, 2007) -- Of the six NASCAR Busch Series races held at the still young Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., four have yielded first-time winners. Reigning NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, Johnny Sauter, Justin Labonte and this year's Coca-Cola 600 winner Casey Mears all received their first Busch Series win at Chicagoland.

Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs/OfficeMax Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, plans to add his name to the list of first-time winners at Chicagoland in Saturday's edition of the USG Durock 300.

However, a quick check of the record book will show that Almirola has already won a Busch Series race. But like the home run record Roger Maris set in 1961, there's an asterisk next to Almirola's victory.

Almirola is credited with the June 23 win at The Milwaukee Mile, but unlike most race winners, he wasn't in victory lane to receive the trophy. That honor went to 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 Chicagoland, as the 23-year-old Tampa, Fla., native readies for his 22nd career Busch Series start and his 13th this season.

Aric Almirola -- Driver, No. 18 Z-Line Designs/OfficeMax NASCAR Busch Series Chevrolet at Chicagoland Speedway

In the NASCAR record books, you're credited with a Busch Series win, but it has an asterisk next to it. Has that given you more incentive to get a win and a trophy to call your own?

"It has. It really has. I'm pretty determined that I'm going to win a race and not have an asterisk next to my name. I want the trophy that I deserve. Milwaukee was a great experience, but I didn't cross the start/finish line in the car. I want that to be my deal. I want to win my first race. I haven't won my first race yet."

While you haven't ever raced at Chicagoland, you've raced at some comparable tracks, namely Kansas Speedway and Michigan International Speedway. How are those tracks to drive, and do you think those experiences will help you at Chicagoland?

"I think so. I think they should help. I know Chicago's got a pretty wide groove and it's pretty racy, so that's exciting to get to go to a race track that you can move around on where you're not necessarily stuck to one lane."

How do you approach racing at a track you've never been to before?

"The more experience I get in the cars and the more seat time I have in the cars, it comes easier, but it's never really easy. You just go out there and try and take it slow and learn all you can in the first practice. Then in the second practice, you can really go for it and see what your car's got. That's our job. I've shown up to many other race tracks that I've never seen before. It's part of what we do, so you just take it slow and try to be as fast as possible."

Do you seek advice from other drivers? In addition to getting their opinion, do you see if you can work with them on the race track, to follow them in practice? Will you chat with Tony Stewart and follow him around the track for a couple of laps?

"Yes. It might not necessarily be one person in particular, but I will pull out onto pit road and if there's another good car on the race track, I'll have my spotter tell me where they're running and I'll try to follow them. It could be anybody. It could be Denny (Hamlin). It could be Tony (Stewart), whoever, just someone who's fast and who's been around there that could definitely help me. I would, for sure, go seek out advice from my teammates."

Chicagoland will mark your 22nd career Busch Series start. It doesn't seem like that long ago when you made your debut last May at Richmond (Va.). How far along do you think you've come in the Busch Series since making that first start?

"It's been a steep learning curve, that's for sure. I'm having fun. The cars are fast, but every race I race, I learn something new or something I should have done or something I should not have done. It's the experience and the seat time that I really lack. Every chance I get to race, just like this one, gets me excited and pumped up because I know it's another opportunity to learn. That's really what I've been looking for out of the Busch Series -- to learn as much as possible. The more I race, the more I get to learn."

-credit: jgr

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Drivers Tony Stewart , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Justin Labonte , Johnny Sauter , Denny Hamlin , Aric Almirola
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing