Almirola to be back with SHR for 2021

Aric Almirola has signed a contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Almirola will continue to drive the No. 10 Ford Mustang with backing from primary sponsor Smithfield Foods, which also extended its partnership with the team. Additional terms were not disclosed.

Greg Zipadelli, Stewart-Haas Racing’s vice president of competition, indicated Monday that he anticipated the organization keeping its four-driver lineup intact for 2021, hinting that contract negotiations were nearly complete.

In nearly three seasons with SHR, the 36-year-old driver has earned one victory, 12 top fives and 43 top 10s, including playoff appearances each year. Almirola enters the 2020 playoffs as the 12th seed with 2,005 points, 52 points behind teammate and top-seeded regular-season champion Kevin Harvick.

Almirola’s lone victory with Stewart-Haas Racing came in October 2018 at Talladega Superspeedway. He was partnered with a new crew chief this year in Mike Bugarewicz, who replaced Johnny Klausmeier with the No. 10 team.

Though he hasn’t reached Victory Lane yet with the new pairing, Almirola has stitched together strings of consistency. The middle portion of the season yielded a stretch of five straight top-five finishes, part of a larger streak of nine consecutive top 10s.

“He’s done a really good job, him and Mike, of growing together as a team and figuring out what he likes,” Zipadelli said during a Monday teleconference. “Buga has done a great job at that, but it’s time to go. They’ve been picking up and building their confidence and I feel like they’re ready, they just have to go out and execute. When you go back through and you look at the top fives and top 10s he‘s had all year, I don’t know if a single one of them was just a good, clean race.

“They‘ve had issues.  Pit crews, restarts, speeding on pit road — things of that nature that have made him go to the back and have to race to the front. If we can clean all of those things up and not make any mistakes, I think he’ll have a good opportunity.”

Smithfield’s relationship with Almirola stretches back to 2012, his first full season with Richard Petty Motorsports. The company joined Almirola in moving to SHR in 2018.

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