Race Weekend Central

2011 NASCAR Driver Review: Aric Almirola

Aric Almirola

2011 Ride: No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet
2011 Primary Sponsor: Grand Touring Vodka
2011 Owner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2011 Crew Chief: Tony Eury Sr.
2011 Nationwide Series Stats: 34 races, 0 wins, 7 top fives, 18 top 10s, 2 DNFs, 1 pole, fourth in points

High Point: Almirola put his Chevrolet on the pole at the second Phoenix race in November, leading 66 laps before an accident ended his day. He was in the top five in points most of the final two-thirds of the season but could never quite catch the top three.

Low Point: After climbing into the points battle late in the season, Almirola went on a five-race stretch where he finished 19th and 25th at Texas and Phoenix and had posted finishes of 15th twice and 12th once in the previous three. That put him out of the battle for the title, though he did rebound for eighth in the season finale at Homestead.

Summary: Almirola was solid, if not spectacular, and consistency helped him finish fourth in the points for JR Motorsports. He led nine races for a total of 101 laps, 66 of them coming at Phoenix when there was hope for a title bounce. A five-race string from Loudon to Watkins Glen produced four top-five finishes and a top 10 in the last one at Watkins Glen capped his most impressive run of the season.

Team Ranking: First. Almirola was the full-time driver for the organization, a stabilizing force while the No. 7 was driven by Danica Patrick and a handful of others. Almirola didn’t win a race, but he finished well most of the time and protected his spot. He was in the top seven in the points for 33 of the 34 races, leaving the first race at Daytona in 11th place.

2012 Outlook: Next season, barring anything radical happening between now and Daytona, will be largely the same as for 2011, with TaxSlayer coming on for 12 races to join Unilever and Grand Touring Vodka as sponsors. The team gets its cars and engines from Hendrick and the loss of KHI as a competitor means that Almirola might have a better shot at getting over the hump he faced this year and contend for the championship. The uncertainty surrounding the Roush Fenway cars will also help.

2011 Frontstretch Grade: B+

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