NASCAR Preseason Fan Festival
January 16, 2009
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
HERB BRANHAM: We're joined first by Aric Almirola driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet Earnhardt Ganassi. Coming into Daytona in the 8, a legendary car number to say the least. What's it feel like to come to Daytona?
ARIC ALMIROLA: It's always good to come to Daytona, especially for me growing up in Tampa. Daytona holds a special place in my heart for sure. I've been here many a times and watched many a Daytona 500s, watched many a firecracker 400s. So it's always fun to come back.
This year is quite interesting for sure to come back in the 8 car and being able to hopefully get to run full-time in the 8 car and stuff like that. We're working through all that stuff. It's definitely interesting to say the least. But very exciting all at the same time.
Q. Can you kind of expand on what you just touched on? I mean, you're definitely in the 8, are you still working on that, and how much? And how confusing is this whole last ten days been for you?
ARIC ALMIROLA: If I could only tell you. It is. It's confusing, it's exciting, it's everything all at once. It's been a basket case of emotions, that's for sure.
But at the end of the day, I'm supposed to get to come to the Daytona 500 and race, and that means so much to me just for the opportunity. I've been dreaming about this since I was a little kid, so to be able to actually come here and race in the Daytona 500 is going to be really exciting.
Q. I apologize for putting you on the spot with this, but you're here. Can you comment on whether or not EGR is now a three-car team and whether there's a sizable additional layoff coming?
ARIC ALMIROLA: That I'm not sure of. I've been out of the office, so to speak, the last few days. I just got back from a skiing trip. With all the testing gone, I mean, I've had a lot of free time on my hands. We took off and went snow skiing for a few days, and I've just come back this morning.
As far as I know, we're still planning on running four cars. I think that they'll look at their financial situation and see whatever they have to do to make that all work out for them. Sorry I can't answer your question, but the honest answer is I don't know.
Q. You're a young guy, so this is an odd question maybe, but do you ever find yourself at the beginning of the year having to get back into racing shape? In the absence of testing, how do you anticipate that being, and physically how were you able to ski?
ARIC ALMIROLA: No, I've been working out and stuff. I mean, physically I don't think it will be a big deal. It will be a little weird to not race -- or practice or test or nothing and just show up at Daytona and practice and qualify. The good thing about Daytona is you always get to run the duel or whatever they call it now, so that will be cool, to be able to get in the car and race some before the actual 500.
It's what we do, and we do it enough throughout the year and stuff like that to where it's like riding a bike; you don't ride a bike for a couple years, you get back on it and take off.
Q. Just the economic uncertainty, have you been free to -- I'm not saying disconnected, but have you been free to explore racing anything anywhere with anybody?
ARIC ALMIROLA: You mean like late model stuff or --
ARIC ALMIROLA: Yeah, I've been talking to some buddies of mine that race here in Florida, and I'll probably run a few nights maybe at New Smyrna during Speedweeks. I'm always up for getting in a late model, modified, sprint car, whatever it is. If it's got four wheels and engine, count me in. I've already got a couple races planned on my off weekends this year to go race some late model races. I've always been doing stuff like that.
Q. As far as kind of mentioning what you just were talking about, this fire in the belly, do you think that race car drivers have that ability to turn on that fire and turn on that determination, or does it just burn constantly?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Say that again. I'm confused.
Q. As far as that fire in the belly determination, do you just constantly want to win and want to compete?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Oh, yeah.
Q. Or do you just turn it on whenever you need to turn it on?
ARIC ALMIROLA: I can't speak for everybody, but for me for sure, I don't like losing at anything, like monopoly, video games, nothing. I don't want to lose. I don't let people win, I don't let my little cousins win. If I have kids, I don't plan on letting them win. I like to win.
Q. So they did assure you that you've got a ride for Daytona?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Yeah. I mean -- gosh, I don't know. I mean, I think so, yes. Every time I think I know something, I realize that maybe I don't. But as far as I know, yes, I'm going to race in the Daytona 500 in the No. 8 car. Now, whether that changes or not, that's beyond my control.
Q. Is it a daily conversation with the team, am I in?
ARIC ALMIROLA: You are beating a dead horse.
Q. You don't sound super-sure about it.
ARIC ALMIROLA: I didn't say super-sure. I'm as sure as I'm led on to believe, and when I got on the plane to come here today, I was racing in the Daytona 500, and that's what I'm looking forward to doing. You know, all that stuff, I think those will be great questions for Chip and Teresa and Steve and all the people that run our race team. I do what I'm told on a daily basis. I'm strictly an employee.
My goal and my expectations are to race, and that's what I firmly believe I'll do. But with the financial situation the way everything is right now, there's a lot up in the air. I don't think many people would have ever expected the things that have happened over this off-season in a million years, and they've happened. I'm not going to speculate on anything.
Q. During the week between Nashville and now, obviously there were rumors and reports about Bobby Labonte perhaps being in the 8 car. What were you feeling during that period of time when you saw those things?
ARIC ALMIROLA: I was curious. I mean, obviously anybody would be curious, but not as curious as maybe I should have been or maybe I shouldn't have been. It all worked out in the end, I think, anyways. But all along, I think the rumor and talk was that Bobby was going in the 41. That had been the talk for weeks. So it was never really a concern of mine.
And then everybody started talking that maybe he was going in the 8 car, and maybe he was, maybe he wasn't, but it never panned out. I've talked to the people at the shop, and they've assured me that I've been the guy that's supposed to drive the 8 car all along, and as far as I know, I've never known any different.
Q. You said that you know you're going to drive the Daytona 500. Do you know if you're going to drive at California the week after?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Now we're talking (laughter). No. I mean, like I said, Chip and Teresa have to do whatever makes financial sense to them, and hopefully for me that means run 36 races. For them I hope that that's the case because that means that they'll have been able to afford to do that.
Now, saying that, I don't know. I don't get to look. I'm not privy to look at their financial statements every week or every month, so I don't know what they're going to be willing to do and not do without a sponsor. The moral of the story is we need a sponsor, badly. We need sponsorship dollars to be able to take our No. 8 Earnhardt-Ganassi with Felix Sabbatta's Chevrolet to every single race that we can. You know, that's the moral of the story is we need sponsorship dollars.
Q. How tough has it been to try to find a sponsor, and how many people have you talked to?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Oh, it's been brutal to say the least. You know, there's no new money coming into the sport, and the same sponsors that have been floating around and going from team to team, everybody knows who they are. Everybody has been talking to them, and it seems like when there is new money that is coming in that everybody finds out about it and talks to them, too, and the sponsors are not -- I guess this will get quoted wrong, but the sponsors are not stupid; they know how bad the economic times are, and they know that they're going to be able to buy more for their dollar right now. So they're shopping around. So everybody is talking to the same people and trying to get the most out of the sponsors that they can because to be able to run a competitive race team, it takes a lot of money, it really does. It's been really tough, and they've been working really hard, and it's been a struggle.
Q. Have we gotten to the point now where people responsible for trying to get sponsors are just making cold calls to companies, "Hey, I'm with Earnhardt-Ganassi, and how would you like to spend $18 on my race team next year?"
ARIC ALMIROLA: I don't think -- I could be totally wrong because I'm not in the office when they make the phone calls, but if it were me sitting at their desk, I don't think it's a situation where you're asking for $18 million anymore, I think you're just asking for money to go from race to race really and truly. That's what it's about now is getting from one week to the next. Really, we're two weeks or three weeks away from when we have to be down here for the Daytona 500. Now is not really a good time to ask somebody for $18 million. I think it's a lot better time to ask somebody to help us get through the next few races, and I think any sponsor right now is going to get a lot of bang for their buck.
Q. Along these same lines, how do you think the current situation will affect drivers' salaries, and yours in particular?
ARIC ALMIROLA: I mean, everybody is -- this industry is not hiding from the economic times, that's for sure. The economic times are down, and they're not good, and so everybody in our race team is -- in our racing industry is going to pay for that, and everybody from drivers to crew chiefs to owners to people that work on the cars are going to see the results of that. Like I said, it's a tough time. I mean, we've been talking about it off and on for the last few months, but I mean, people are particular would to death to have a job these days. It's not a time anymore to where you can just say, oh, the hell with it and I'm going to go get a job somewhere else. I think there's close to a thousand people in the North Carolina area that know how to work on race cars that don't have jobs. If you've got a job, you're just excited as hell to have it.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you very much.
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