Stewart recalls early memories of Almirola

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America

By Caleb Whisler, Staff Writer

The relationship between Tony Stewart and Aric Almriola came into fruition today after it has been building since an early memory just ten years ago from a NASCAR XFINITY Series race at the Milwaukee Mile.

From the days when the Milwaukee Mile was on the XFINITY schedule when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series was at Sonoma, Stewart remembers Almirola qualifying on the pole and leading every lap on that day in 2007. Much to Almirola’s displeasure, Stewart will not let Almirola live down that day.

“The thing for me is I remember when Aric was leading the race at Milwaukee and had qualified on the pole in Joe Gibbs’ car and led every lap,” said Stewart.

“Do we really have to keep talking about that?,” interjected Almirola.

Why will Stewart not let Almirola live that day down? Despite his dominance, Almirola was pulled out of the car early in the race because Denny Hamlin was able to make it to Milwaukee from the day at Sonoma.

“The important part that was kind of overlooked was here’s a guy that didn’t have a lot of time in an XFINITY car that qualified on the pole and had led every lap of the race and not just led it, but dominated it at that point,” said Stewart.

Although Almirola has been unable to showcase his talent to its fullest potential, Stewart still remembers that day and the dominating performance shown on the race track.

“I think a lot of people have forgotten that about Aric and how much talent he really has, and that’s something I’ve never forgotten.  I’ve always had that in my mind,” said Stewart.

The reason why Milwaukee continues to be brought up between Stewart and Almirola was because Stewart knew what the significance of that race would be for Almirola.

“I knew that was a significant race for him.  Like I said, I think a lot of people forgot about that race and how dominant Aric was.  He doesn’t have to talk about it.  I’ll talk about it for him as long as anybody wants to, but what stood out about it was he did not have a lot of time in an XFINITY car at that time either.  He qualified on the pole and, I mean, anybody that remembers watching that race he didn’t have small leads, he had huge leads up to the point where he got out of the car,” said Stewart

Stewart has vivid recollections of watching that race after the activities from Sonoma were complete. Stewart’s eyes were on Almirola not only because he was a development driver, but he was also a Joe Gibbs Racing teammate.

“I remember watching that race myself and just everything about it made me smile because he was my teammate, so I had a special focus on him because of that, and so every time he made a really good move I’m like, ‘Attaboy.’  He did it right.  I watched a lot of details in that race that a lot of other people didn’t focus on and that’s why it’s such a big deal to me because I know what kind of talent he has,” said Stewart.

Fast forward to 2018, Stewart is comfortable that Stewart-Haas Racing will be able to provide Almirola the opportunity to showcase and prove his talents.

“I know what he can do if he gets in a car that is set up the way that he likes it.  He’s proven that in the past, so to give him that opportunity, hopefully, we can give him a car that he’s comfortable with and he can go out and show his talent.”

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