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Aric Almirola looks to make best season start even better

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Gander RV 400 - Practice

DOVER, DE - MAY 04: Aric Almirola, driver of the #10 Smithfield Ford, stands by his car during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Gander RV 400 at Dover International Speedway on May 4, 2019 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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Given that Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick won Cup races last season at Michigan International Speedway, Aric Almirola would like to keep that team winning streak going into Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 with his own visit to victory lane.

The timing couldn’t be better for Almirola to do so.

Even though he hasn’t won a race in 2019, Almirola is enjoying his best start in Cup competition to date. The Tampa, Florida, native has one top-five and eight top-10 finishes. He’s also won a pole and led 99 laps in 14 races.

During the first 14 races of last season, he had no top fives, six top 10s, no poles and led one lap.

Almirola enters this weekend’s action 12th in the Cup standings, although he’s been as high as fifth (after Texas). Given that he is a former winner at Michigan in a Truck (2010), he’d welcome the opportunity to add a Cup win to that record, particularly since MIS is less than an hour away from Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.

He’s also trended upward in his last three starts at the high-speed, 2-mile oval, finishing 12th in August 2017, 11th in last year’s spring race and a career-best seventh in last August’s race.

“It’s great to see how far we’ve come over the years and have continued to progress,” Almirola said in a media release. “I’m so grateful to have incredible partners like Smithfield, Ford Performance and a No. 10 Ford team who are always hungry for more.”

After six consecutive top-10 finishes from Atlanta to Texas, Almirola wrecked on the second lap and finished 37th at Bristol, followed by a 23rd-place showing at Richmond. But in the five races since then, he’s finished ninth (Talladega), 16th (Dover), 12th (Kansas), 11th (Charlotte) and 10th this past Sunday at Pocono.

He’s looking to build upon that recent success at Michigan.

“We started off so strong (this season), had some bad luck, and we’re still more competitive than we were last year, but we’re competitors and we’ll always want more,” he said in a media release. “Michigan is a track that we have progressed at, as well, so I’m excited to get back there to compete for a win in Ford’s backyard.”

One of the biggest keys to success there Sunday will be good restarts.

“We’re seeing restarts get crazier and crazier at tracks that we go to,” Almirola said. “There’s no one track that they’re crazier at than the other anymore because that is the most opportune time to pass cars, besides on pit road. Pit road is the easiest place to pass but, once you line up for the restart, there’s opportunity to gain three, four, five spots in a lap, and there’s no other opportunity to do something like that throughout the run.

“I feel like restarts are definitely the time to gain or lose track position, so you have to be on offense and defense at the same time. Michigan is very wide and you want to be aggressive and go take spots away, but you can easily give up four or five spots that are really hard to get back once we get single file.

“Michigan is a very line-sensitive on restarts. The outside lane is usually the dominant lane. The inside lane – the cars on the inside usually lose sideforce, they lose the air on the side of their car and they are very loose down there in turns one and two on the restart. The outside lane usually has the momentum and is the preferred lane going through (turns) one and two on the restarts.”

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