Last year at Daytona in July, Aric Almirola was able to make magic happen as the Florida native brought home the victory behind the wheel of the classic No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports.
“Winning at Daytona is special for anybody, but winning at Daytona, for me, is really special because I grew up here,” Almirola reflected. “I grew up sitting in those grandstands and dreaming about what it would be like to have a chance to race here, so to actually get a chance to race a Cup car here and win is unbelievable and very special. We come to Daytona this year with a lot of excitement. We’re the last ones to win here in the Cup Series, so we’re excited about the Daytona 500 and it would be really awesome to get a Daytona 500 win to add to that Coke Zero 400 win.”
Almirola first started coming to Daytona at the age of seven, sitting up in the grandstands. It was part of a family vacation that would include a trip to Disney World, followed by a trip to the track before returning back to Tampa. Now that he’s moved to North Carolina and focused on his career, he says that he misses the food the most.
“That’s the one thing I miss about Tampa more than anything else is the Cuban food,” he commented. “It’s very hard to get Piccadillo in Mooresville, North Carolina. So I miss that, but, to be honest with you, North Carolina is home for me now. I miss my family. All of my family is still back in Tampa, so I miss them, but besides my family, I miss the food.”
Though reflecting back to that time as a child, Almirola always envisioned that one day he’d be hitting those high banks himself.
“It was certainly a dream, but it was something I was willing to get up every day and work hard for,” Almirola says reflecting back. “I can’t tell you how many Friday nights I missed school parties or school dances or you name it. I can’t tell you how many weekends I didn’t go to the football games or hang out with my friends or go to sleepovers or any of that stuff because all I cared about was racing and I was willing to do whatever it took to try every effort to make it to this level. And if I didn’t make it, it wasn’t for lack of effort or lack of want to.”
At the age of 30, he can now call himself at Daytona winner.
Seven months later after the win, Almirola says it definitely changed his career. However, he’s still the same guy that he was before.
“I still come home and change dirty diapers and my wife tells me what to do, just like before I won and that didn’t really change after I won,” he commented. “But my career has change. I feel like I’ve got a lot more respect and we’ve put ourselves in a position to be a team that’s recognized and people expect us to run up front. We competed well in the Chase and performed at a pretty good level, so when people think about Richard Petty Motorsports and this 43 team right now they think of us as contenders.”
Looking to repeat that success, he returns to the 2.5 mile superspeedway this year with the same car that he won with in July, but yet with improvements made to make it even stronger.