NASCAR Media Conference
July 13, 2010
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to our second NASCAR cam teleconference in advance of this Friday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Gateway International Raceway.
Joining us now is Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 51 Zyclara - Graceway Pharmaceuticals Toyota for Billy Ballew Motorsports. Aric currently sits second in the series standings, only 88 points behind Todd Bodine. He won his first Camping World Truck Series event earlier this season at Dover in May and followed it with another victory three races later at Michigan.
The No. 51 team heads for Friday's Missouri Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 at Gateway, looking to rebound after an on-track incident that took them out of the competition at Iowa this past weekend.
Aric, at the beginning of the season, did you think you would be second in points with two wins after 10 races?
ARIC ALMIROLA: I felt like it was definitely a possibility. You know, I didn't think it was farfetched by any means to be second in the points or even be leading the points at this time in the season.
I felt like our race team is very capable of doing that. We have great trucks and we have great guys on our race team. So, you know, I felt like if we did all the things we needed to do and did them well, we could contend for a championship and win races.
So far we've proven that we can do that. So it's been a great year. I'm really proud of all the guys on our team. They work really hard week in and week out. It shows on the track.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Aric. We'll now go to the media for questions Aric Almirola.
Q. Aric, you travel a lot. What do you miss most about Tampa?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Man, the food. I miss being able to go get some good Cuban food from Tampa. I love going home and getting my grandparents' cooking. There's no substitute for that. Being here in North Carolina, it's tough to find some good Spanish food.
I'd say the number one thing I miss about Tampa, obviously the family, I miss them very much, but second to them would be the food.
Q. Your dad is a fire chief in Tampa. Is there something in your genes that father and son seek dangerous jobs?
ARIC ALMIROLA: I don't know. Growing up, I looked up to my dad being a firefighter. I always thought it would be cool to maybe one day be a firefighter. Some of the stories he comes home and tells about putting out fires, saving people's lives, whatever the case may be, it was always pretty cool to me. I looked up to him as a hero.
You know, that was always something I definitely thought about doing, but I've been very fortunate in my career to where I've been able to race and make a living at it. It's something I love very, very much and I'm very passionate about.
Racing is definitely always going to trump firefighting, but both have their dangers.
Q. I know you talked earlier you felt at the beginning of the season you could contend for a championship. Certainly in the last few weeks you had some time to be with the 48 Cup team. What did you pull from that experience? Since that is a championship team, are there some things that you could pick up that can help you potentially for a truck championship?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Yeah, absolutely. I felt like hanging out with the 48 team and Jimmie and Chad and all those guys on that Lowe's team there, I felt like I learned a lot.
I felt like the number one thing I learned is how prepared they are in everything that they do, even something as simple as maybe we're going to have a driver change. They were fully prepared to do that. Every 'I' was dotted, every 'T' was crossed. From that standpoint, I think that's what makes them champions, is how prepared they are.
The saying in racing has gone on for years and years and years: The race is not won at the racetrack, it's won at the shop. These guys are a prime example of that. Their things are right every week they unload, they're fast right out of the trailer. If anything I picked up on, the number one thing I picked up on is how prepared they are.
Q. Was it things from the driver's point of view or just the team? What kind of things in particular did you see about how prepared they were that was maybe a little bit new or maybe something you hadn't done as much in the past?
ARIC ALMIROLA: No, just everything. Everything as a collective group. The guys that work on the racecars being tremendously prepared with the racecars. You know, just everything is perfect on 'em. I mean, how often do you ever hear the 48 having an issue or something left loose or something break? It rarely happens.
Just all the guys that work on the car being prepared. You know how in depth Chad is being prepared, watching film, studying the race from the previous years, the previous race earlier that year. And Jimmie the same. You know, they study it every day. They know exactly what they want out of the racecar. Nine times out of ten, they're able to get it.
Q. With the success you're having in the Truck Series, last time you were in Cup, certainly financial restrictions held you back there in your last ride. With the success in Truck, do you see people looking at you a little bit differently? Do you feel like it's enhanced your image or do you feel like people knew who you are and you're reproving in a way what they thought earlier?
ARIC ALMIROLA: I feel like it's enhanced my image by being as competitive as we are this year in the Truck Series, for sure. You know, anytime you go out and win races in NASCAR, it's a feather in your cap. I've been fortunate enough to do that twice now this year. We run really good week in and week out. We're a legitimate contender for the championship. You know, I feel like people notice. Definitely that's not going unnoticed by any means.
As far as my image because of that, I think it's only positive.
Q. Looking down the road, you're going to be at Pocono for the first time in the Truck Series. You ran in ARCA a couple years ago there. Tell us what you learned about Pocono and the feeling you're going to go there and drive in the Truck Series in a couple weeks.
ARIC ALMIROLA: I'm excited about Pocono. I do have experience there. The racetrack is not like any other racetrack we go to. So I'm glad that I do have experience there. It will be really tough to show up there on the weekend of the race and try and figure the track out and try and figure our truck out at the same time.
At least now I have time on the track and I know what I'm looking for around the racetrack to make my truck handle. With the trucks never racing there, that's going to be a new experience all in itself.
I'll be able to spend a lot more of my time focusing on how to get our truck around the racetrack the best we can. It's a compromise. Pocono has three very different corners around the racetrack, so it's a huge compromise with the setup. It's not going to be perfect by any means.
I really feel like I already know what I'm kind of looking for heading there for a balance for setup. We'll be able to unload and work right away on trying to get that feel.
Q. How satisfying has this season been for you, knowing the long journey you had in your career, being at Joe Gibbs, DEI? It's got to be gratifying for you to come out and show people what you can do when given a chance to compete at a full-time level.
ARIC ALMIROLA: It's been very gratifying. Very thankful to Billy Ballew and Graceway Pharmaceuticals for getting behind me, supporting me and believing in me. They've both stepped up in a big way and gave the opportunity to drive Billy's truck and Graceway came onboard and sponsored us. That was huge for us to be able to go out and race week in and week out, contend for wins. I feel we have some of the best stuff in the garage area. On any given weekend we can go and win.
I love that about our race team. When we were in the shop, head to the racetrack that weekend, we don't ever leave thinking, We want to get a good finish and get out of there. We feel like every weekend we leave and go to the racetrack like we have a shot to win.
Man, you couldn't ask for anything more as a racecar driver. That's all you dream about is being able to go every single weekend and win.
Q. Aric, a few years ago there was a regular flow of young drivers into the Cup Series. Obviously you were poised to be among them. Then the door closed. Did it feel like a door closed when the economy hit? What was it like being so close and having that door close on you?
ARIC ALMIROLA: It was extremely difficult. You know, I felt like my dreams had been dashed. I felt like I didn't see any light at the end of the tunnel for a few weeks. I didn't give up on my dreams. I didn't give up on racing. But I didn't know what was next. I had no idea.
I felt like I was in the best position possible. I felt like I was with a good organization. All of a sudden the economy hit and we didn't have a sponsor. Next thing I knew, I didn't have a job. So that was really tough for me.
It gave me an opportunity to step back and evaluate where I was as a person, as a racecar driver and everything really. A few months afterwards, I got a phone call from Billy Ballew that leapfrogged me where I'm at today.
I have a lot of faith in God and I feel like everything happens for a reason. Obviously, looking back on it, I felt like the day they called me and told me the 8 car was shutting down, I didn't have a job anymore, I felt miserable. I felt like it was one of the worst days of my life. But really looking back on it, I feel like it's been a career changer for me.
You know, I've been able to step back to the Truck Series, get in good equipment, be able to go out and show what I'm capable of when I have a great team around me.
When one door closes another door opens, I guess you could say.
Q. Now that you're having the success you're having in the Truck Series, do you see the door cracking for you to get a shot in Cup down the road?
ARIC ALMIROLA: I hope so. Man, I've learned in this sport you never know. You can't expect anything. You can't feel like you deserve anything. Everything is, you know -- I don't know the right way to put it. Everything is very rewarding when it does happen.
With this sport, things change at a moment's notice. So I've learned to not hang my hat on too many things; make sure that I keep digging, don't take anything for granted.
I love where I'm at right now with my career. I love going to the racetrack and winning races and being competitive. So as long as I can continue to do that in whatever series I race in, I'll be happy.
Q. I wanted to get your opinion on Austin Dillon. What have you seen from him this year? What are his best attributes as a driver?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Well, I mean, first and foremost, you know, for as young as he is, he's extremely talented. He's got a great group of guys around him. Danny Stockman, his crew chief, all the guys that work up there at RCR are a Class A organization. He has great equipment, great horsepower, and he's got great guys around him. He's a talented racecar driver. In a very short period of time, he's gone out and shown what he's capable of doing.
I didn't expect anything less, to tell you the truth. I felt like he was any day away from winning a race. So congratulations to him this weekend. I'm sure that was really cool for him, his family, Richard and everybody.
I'm sure there's more to come from him, too.
Q. Last time I talked to you, you were jogging on the beach in Daytona before the race. Do you have that as your routine or it's lucky that Daytona has a nice beach available to you?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Yeah, there's not much beach access in Moorseville, North Carolina. I don't get to do that very often. But that was a rarity for me. I love being outside. That's the thing for me, I love to be outside, I love to be doing something. I hate just sitting still. I don't like to be inside. I like hunting. I like fishing. I like wake boarding. I just like being outside. I love to exercise.
You caught me doing what I love to do. I was outside running on the beach in Daytona.
Q. When you were in the 48 camp, I asked Jimmie Johnson about his mental methods. He doesn't really study that. You spent some time with him. Do you study mental methods at all or do you wing it like he does?
ARIC ALMIROLA: I just wing it, yeah. You know, as far as that goes, I've not paid much attention to that, don't really know much about it. I try to study as much as I can as far as from the aspect of, you know, when and where to be on the racetrack from the last previous years, if the groove and stuff moves around. I try to be as much as I can as a racecar driver from studying films and stuff like that.
As far as the mental aspects, the golfers that see shrinks and stuff like that, I'm not involved in any of that. I just kind of wing it and do my own deal.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, everybody, for joining us today. Aric, thank you so much for your time and good luck this weekend.
ARIC ALMIROLA: Thank you. Appreciate it.
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