When the NASCAR Cup Series took its lone off weekend of the season on June 17 and 18, Aric Almirola did something he’ll have the chance to do much more often soon: spend time with his family.
Instead of strapping into his 3,200 pound, 670 horsepower Ford Mustang, Almirola’s weekend consisted of swimming in his backyard pool with his son and daughter, going to church, and visiting a local farmer's market.
After 15 seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series, Almirola is ready to let racing take a backseat to enjoying life with his wife and children.
But don’t think the 38-year-old Florida native is going to hang his helmet up for good.
In January, Almirola announced that he was stepping away from full-time racing following this season. But he absolutely would love to continue to race on a more limited schedule.
“I love to race. I love to drive a race car. I love to compete,” Almirola said in a recent interview with Auto Racing Digest. “All of that is not why I want to step away. The reason I want to step away is because running a full-time schedule is so demanding that I literally have to pick and choose between my career and my family.
“For me, I’ve chosen to chase my dream and my career for a long time now, and looking ahead I can’t see myself continuing to do that. The length of the schedule and the demands on my schedule to do what I do and do it full-time is really difficult. For me, still having the opportunity to drive a race car? Absolutely. And especially if not having to do it 40 weeks a year. That would be something that I’m highly interested in.”
So don't be surprised if you see Almirola in a race car from time to time after this season. And when asked if he’d be interested in racing his boss Tony Stewart’s Superstar Racing Experience, Almirola enthusiastically said “Yeah!”
“It looks like those guys have a blast,” Almirola said. “It looks like they put on great races and it looks like they have a lot of fun doing it. Absolutely.”
As his final full-time season continues to roll on, Almirola is still determined to remain competitive through the finish. He enters this weekend's Cup race at Road America in Central Wisconsin nine points out of the 16th and final playoff qualifying spot -- a position currently held by his Stewart Haas Racing teammate, Kevin Harvick.
“I’m just trying to embrace every moment and live in the moment each week and not get too far ahead of myself,” Almirola said. “I’ve had a really enjoyable season so far. I’ve had a lot of fun, we’ve run well. I certainly wish I could have some races back to do over but nonetheless, we’re off to a great start this season.
"We're closing in on halfway through the year so this is when it becomes crunch time. You’ve got to be at your best right now until the end of the season. And it is a long, long ride from here to Championship Weekend in Phoenix. It’s going to be really important to be at our best going forward and I would say we are on track. The last few weeks have been really good for us and we anticipate more of that going to the next races coming.”
Off the track, Almirola has also continued to keep busy as well. Like any driver, work doesn’t stop outside of race weekend, and Almirola still maintains a busy schedule of media and sponsor appearances. His latest appearances have been to promote long-time Stewart-Haas Racing sponsor Mobil 1, as the No. 10 team recently appeared in a mini-documentary called Mission: Unstoppable, highlighting how Mobil 1 Delvac products are used by the team’s transporters.
But between all the day-to-day appearances both on and off-track a driver makes, there’s one more place Almirola would like to make an appearance at before the end of the year: Victory Lane. And if he does make it in the next nine races that wrap up the regular season before the 10-race Cup playoffs begin, the odds are that Almirola would qualify for the playoffs.
“It’d be huge just because as a driver being in the sport as long as I have, you never know when that last win is going to be,” said Almirola, who has three career Cup wins. “Every time you win, a few weeks later and as the season goes on and you don’t go back to Victory Lane, you just kind of start to question. ‘Man, am I going to win again? That last time I won, was that it?’
"You always question that. I’d love to go back to Victory Lane at least once - if not more - between now and the end of the year.”