JR Motorsports has signed Aric Almirola to a multi-year driving contract for the company's No. 88 NASCAR Nationwide Series team starting in 2011, general manager Kelley Earnhardt announced today.
A 26-year-old native of Tampa, Fla., Almirola has 32 career Nationwide Series starts, including one for JR Motorsports in which he finished third at O'Reilly Raceway Park in July. Almirola's full-time duties as the No. 88 driver will officially begin in 2011, but he could potentially fill the seat in select races this season while he continues to run for a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.
"The chance to drive full time in the Nationwide Series with a top caliber team is something I am extremely excited about," Almirola said. "I was at the shop yesterday, and Kelley gathered all the employees around to announce our deal. The energy and excitement was addicting. We raced at ORP together a month ago and had a really good run. There is no reason why we cannot compete like that every race, and there is no reason why we shouldn't be running for a championship. I would expect nothing less."
Almirola comes to JR Motorsports with proven credentials. In 2006-07, he competed in the Nationwide Series with Joe Gibbs Racing, earning three poles and six top-10s. He is credited with one victory - the June 23, 2007, race at Milwaukee Mile - in which he and Denny Hamlin shared seat time in the victorious No. 20 car. That performance was part of a successful 2007 campaign, which opened doors to a lifelong dream of racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Dale Earnhardt Inc. signed Almirola to a part-time driving deal in 2008 with the unique task of splitting seat time with Mark Martin. Nineteen of Almirola's 30 Sprint Cup starts came with DEI, which later became Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. In his first race of the 2008 season, Almirola scored a career-best Sprint Cup finish of eighth at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Almirola continued racing in sporadic Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races in 2009 and 2010, before going full-time this year with Billy Ballew Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series. In 15 races so far this season, Almirola has two wins (Dover on May 14 and Michigan on June 12) and has finished in the top 10 in all but four events. He currently sits second in the championship point standings.
"If there is a quintessential JR Motorsports driver, we feel it's Aric Almirola," Kelley Earnhardt said. "The way he drives, the ambition he carries, the way he represents himself on and off the track, it all fits within our company's dynamics, our core objectives, and the values of our sponsorship partners. We look forward to putting him in our No. 88 car so he can continue his success."
Almirola's one stint for JRM took place on July 24 at O'Reilly Raceway Park. He started the Kroger 200 in sixth position, led one lap, ran among the top five all night, and finished third in his debut in the No. 88 GT Vodka Chevrolet. Almirola is one of 10 drivers who has or will have raced the No. 88 Chevrolet at least once in 2010. Team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive the No. 88 Realtree Outdoors Chevrolet at Bristol this Friday night in the Food City 250.
"This has been a far different year than anything we have ever experienced before, but we feel like our decision to take our time and not be rushed into naming a full-schedule driver for the No. 88 paid off with the signing of Aric," Kelley Earnhardt said. "He brings a lot to the table for us, as well as our sponsors. He is someone they can build their brands around, and he has the talent to take them to the Winner's Circle."