You can hear it in Aric Almirola’s voice.
He is pumped to get the 2018 season going.
The 33-year-old driver will take the wheel of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford when NASCAR fires up the engines at Daytona International Speedway in February.
No offense to his former team, Richard Petty Motorsports, but Almirola has landed with a group of rough-and-tumble racers capable of winning the Cup Series championship.
“This is the opportunity every racer wants,” Almirola said. “Stewart-Haas Racing is an experienced organization with a lot of depth, great technical support from Ford, and staffed with racers from top to bottom.
“They lean on each other, challenge each other and make each other better. I’m really looking forward to being a part of that.”
He will be driving the car that Danica Patrick wheeled for the past five years. When Patrick’s sponsorship money disappeared, Almirola arrived at the SHR doorstep with Smithfield Foods in hand.
Patrick, 35, says she will compete in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 this year backed by GoDaddy dollars.
Meanwhile, Almirola drove for a one-car operation last season. Petty relied heavily on limited technical support from Team Penske and Roush Yates Racing.
Now he is teammates with Clint Bowyer, who has eight Cup wins; Kurt Busch, who won the 2017 Daytona 500; and 2014 Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick. Busch won the Cup crown in 2004.
“I’ve known Aric since 2004 and have always been impressed with him on the racetrack,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR. “I’ve raced with him and seen him mature into a really good race-car driver.
“He can compete for wins here at Stewart-Haas and help our other drivers compete for wins. He’s an excellent fit for this team and for Smithfield.”
Almirola said he had a chance to bond with his team during a recent two-day tire test at Texas Motor Speedway. He also makes a point of spending time at the SHR shop.
“They have 380 employees at the shop, and I’m trying really hard to get to know everybody,” he said. “It’s been fun getting to know everybody.
“This is a group of hard-core racers, from the top on down to the janitors. It’s nice to see that and be a part of that.”
Almirola said SHR employs 80 engineers, who “make very fast race cars.”
Almirola has only one Cup win on his record. He captured the rain-shortened 2014 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona driving for Petty.
He backed up that Daytona win by nabbing the 2016 Subway Firecracker 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race.
Since Almirola was raised in Tampa and attended the University of Central Florida, he considers Daytona his home track.
“It’s a special place for me,” he said. “Daytona is hallowed ground for any racer, but me especially because I grew up just two hours from there.
“I went there as a kid to watch races. I won Cup and Xfinity races there now. For me Daytona is very special for a lot of different reasons. The one box left unchecked is the Daytona 500, and to win the 60th 500 would be pretty cool.”