Aric Almirola, who qualified for four of the first seven Sprint Cup races for Phoenix Racing, said Monday he has mutually agreed to part ways with the team and will focus on competing for the Camping World Truck Series title with Billy Ballew Motorsports.
Phoenix Racing lost its sponsorship from Miccosukee Resort & Gaming prior to the start of the season and has dropped out of the four races with Almirola within 60 laps.
“We both agreed it was time to do something different,” Almirola said in a phone interview. “I am going to focus a lot more on my truck program, which is really important to me and Billy Ballew Motorsports and all the guys over there.
“They deserve that. I’m so excited. There’s no hard feelings between either of us [at Phoenix]. It’s strictly business and we’re going to keep on going. I’m still going to look at other opportunities in the sport. The way that one was going, it just didn’t work out for either of us.”
The 26-year-old Almirola is second in the truck standings, just 82 points behind leader Timothy Peters. Almirola has three top-10s in four truck events this year.
Almirola has driven 30 races in Cup for Joe Gibbs Racing, Ginn Racing, Dale Earnhardt Inc., Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Phoenix. He started 2009 with EGR but the team didn’t have sponsorship and he was out of a ride seven races into the season.
He had hoped the 2010 season with car owner James Finch would be different but Finch saw the Miccosukee sponsorship go away in February.
“I’ve got such a good thing going with Billy Ballew and that truck deal over there, I don’t want to let that slip,” Almirola said. “We’re only four races in and have still got a long season ahead of us. We’re competitive week in and week out. We run in the top five and the top 10 and we put ourselves in position to win races.
“At this point in my career, at 26 years old, that’s what is most important to me, getting in stuff that’s competitive and feeling like I have a chance to win. That’s number one for me and I’m fortunate enough to have an opportunity to do that with Billy Ballew and [sponsor] Graceway Pharmaceuticals. Taking anything away from that is wrong on my part.”
While he valued the experience of getting laps in a Cup car, Almirola was going to have to make a decision between the truck race in Kansas and the Cup event in Richmond May 1. It just seemed right, Almirola said, to make the decision now after he failed to qualify for the race at Phoenix last weekend.
“Who gets in a race car and gets excited about going out and running a few laps and parking?” Almirola said. “Nobody does. But I understand it and don’t blame James for any of it. He lost his sponsorship on the way to going to Daytona for the Daytona 500. It put him in an odd situation and everybody in an odd situation.
“When I signed on to go race for him over the winter, none of that was in the plans. We had banked on having a sponsor and racing and doing things the way we needed to do them to be competitive.”
Almirola said the Ballew team can win a truck title.
“We’re a top-three team, top-five for sure every week,” Almirola said. “If you do that, it puts you in position to race for a championship. We have to score the most amount of points we’re capable on any given weekend.
“If we have a truck capable of winning, we need to win. If we have a truck capable of finishing eighth, then we need to run eighth. … We probably had a 15th-place truck when we started out at Nashville and we worked really hard and got out of Nashville with an eighth-place finish. If we keep doing stuff like that, I don’t see any reason why we can’t run for a championship.”
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