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Past Fantasy Outlooks
Of the Stewart Haas Racing drivers who suffered through a long, lean 2021 campaign, Almirola was most-affected. The veteran driver seemingly fell off the cliff in terms of performance. The driver of the No. 10 Ford did capture a surprise win at the New Hampshire short track, but the rest of the season was subpar malaise in terms of performance. Almirola only logged five Top-10 finishes and saw his average finish balloon 6.5-spots to 19.9 over the previous season. He did make the Chase playoffs thanks to his victory at Loudon, but it was otherwise a disastrous campaign and his worst since 2017. This driver and team will hit the reset button in 2022. Almirola is too good to be this poor on a season-long sample. The new Next-Gen car will be an equalizer as all teams will be adapting. Almirola and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz should climb back to the double digit Top-10 plateau in the upcoming season.
Almirola smashed through some obstacles and the COVID-affected season to rebound from his 2019 performance. The Stewart Haas Racing veteran posted six Top-5 and 18 Top-10 finishes last year, but couldn't scratch the win column nor drive deep into the playoffs. Still, he lowered his average finish almost 2 spots from 2019 to a more attractive 13.3 average finish. This uptick in performance was thanks mostly to a mid-season hot streak that saw the No. 10 Ford team reel off five consecutive Top-5 finishes and string together nine consecutive Top 10s from June until August. A bit of a late-season swoon during the playoffs would see his early exit and damper his performance a bit. Almirola will hope to overcome that in 2021 but he faces some head winds in returning to victory lane and pushing his numbers to any higher levels. We should see the average finish remain pretty close to the same, but could see a slight downturn in the Top-10 totals for Almirola.
As expected, Almirola did suffer a bit of a downturn in performance last season. His 2018 campaign set all kinds of new career marks for the veteran driver, so you knew it would be a difficult task to duplicate. Still, Almirola deposited three Top-5 and 12 Top-10 finishes in the bank by season's end. He would take an early exit from the Chase for the Cup and end up 14th-place in the championship points. Stewart Haas Racing has brought in Mike Bugarewicz from the No. 14 team of Clint Bowyer to be Almirola's new crew chief. This is an interesting shakeup, and will hopefully pay some dividends. In fact, we expect Almirola to receive a better "bump" from this crew chief swap than Bowyer. Almirola may not make it back to victory lane in 2020, but he should see his Top 5 and Top 10 totals climb back in the right direction.
The breakout driver of 2018 has to somehow follow up the stellar season he posted last year. Almirola raced to career bests of four Top-5 and 17 Top-10 finishes. The Florida native also went back to victory lane for the first time since 2014. Almirola showed his superspeedway prowess with an October victory at Talladega that propelled the No. 10 SHR team deep into the Chase. His 15.6 average starting position and 12.8 average finishing position were career-best marks as well. It's going to be tough for Almirola to improve upon these figures. Last year was such a quantum leap in terms of performance for this 34-year-old driver that it's nearly off the charts. We believe Almirola can hold onto most of these gains, but don't expect much, if any improvement. He may have very likely found his ceiling in season one at Stewart Haas Racing.
One of the biggest free agent moves of the off-season was Almirola. The veteran driver jumped from Richard Petty Motorsports and the iconic No. 43 Ford and into the No. 10 Ford of Stewart Haas Racing. Almirola takes over the ride that Danica Patrick vacated at SHR. It's a huge opportunity for the South Florida native to make a big jump in performance. This will be by far the most capable and talented team Almirola has raced for in his 10 seasons of competition at NASCAR's top level. He could challenge his career-best marks of seven Top 10's and a 16th-place points finish. In fact, we expect Almirola and his new team to challenge for a Chase playoff berth. John Klausmeier will team with him as crew chief and give guidance in season one at SHR. It's a situation set up for success.
Last season was a complete disaster for Almirola and Richard Petty Motorsports. This driver experienced a major power outage and only claimed one Top-10 finish in all of 2016. That led to a lowly 26th-place finish in the final driver standings for Almirola. Those marks were career lows since he joined the Monster Energy Cup Series full-time in 2012. Things got to the point where a team shakeup happened last September. Drew Blickensderfer took over the crew chief responsibilities and led Almirola to his only Top 10 of the season (Talladega) and three Top 15s during the Chase. Things appear to be on a much better trend line going into the new season. Hopefully, Almirola can get back into the middle teens of the driver standings and nab 6 or 7 Top 10s along the way to a much better campaign than last year.
The No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team has developed nicely the last couple years under Almirola's control. He has one Chase berth to his credit (2014), he's won a race (Daytona July 2014) and he's been finishing inside the top 20 of the driver standings each season. The big question is will Almirola and this team take the next steps in development or are they maxed out? We would tend to think the latter. Nothing is changing about the sponsorship, technical alliance, or team members for the upcoming season. Trent Owens will still call the shots from atop the team's war wagon. There's good reason to believe his hot and cold streaks we accustomed to seeing throughout a year will be the rule once again in 2016. A campaign of about 7 top 10s and a challenge for another Chase berth should be in store.
Almirola will return for another season of Sprint Cup Series Racing with Richard Petty’s historic No. 43 team. Despite five years and 71 starts of experience, 2012 was his first full-time season in NASCAR’s top division. The learning curve was steep and the lessons were many for Almirola last season. He labored to just four Top-10 finishes and a 20th-place finish in the final driver standings. 2013 should hold some incremental success for Almirola. He and crew chief Todd Parrott seemed to have things pretty well figured out at the end of last year. The duo posted a pair of Top 10’s in the final four races and had the No. 43 Ford team performing as well as they had all year long. We expect that momentum to carry right into February and beyond.
More Fantasy News
Retiring after season
Wins Talladega Pole
Almirola won the pole for the YellaWood 500 NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway Saturday afternoon. He turned a fast lap of 181.656 mph.
Third in Coke Zero Sugar 400
Almirola finished third in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway Saturday night.
Wins Atlanta Pole Position
Almirola won the pole for the Quaker State 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Saturday evening. He turned a fast lap of 177.346 mph.
Wins DoorDash 250
Almirola won the DoorDash 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway Saturday.