Aric Almirola’s inspiring story now includes career-best Daytona 500 finish

Almost overlooked in all the mayhem that was last Sunday’s Daytona 500 was the career-best finish of fourth logged by Aric Almirola in the Great American Race at Daytona International Speedway.

Almirola certainly was pleased with it after avoiding a series of multi-car accidents that took out many of the top contenders in the race long before the checkered flag flew.

“It was a wild day. I can’t believe how many cars were involved in wrecks here and there,” said Almirola, driver of the No. 43 Ford, the only car in the Richard Petty Motorsports stable this season. “We were able to get through quite a few of them. … Our car just didn’t quite have the speed we needed to make the big runs and complete the big passes, but all in all it was a good day for our Smithfield Ford Fusion.”

Almirola said he was very pleased that a fellow Ford driver, Kurt Busch, was able to go to Victory Lane for Stewart-Haas Racing.

“I’m so happy for Ford Motor Company to get to go to Victory Lane. That’s so awesome for them,” he said.

Almirola also thought it was pretty awesome when it was announced that his primary sponsor, Smithfield Foods, has been awarded the NASCAR Partner Award with Richard Petty Motorsports. Each year, the award is given to a company that demonstrates a commitment to NASCAR diversity goals through its program support and engagement.

According to a team release, Smithfield’s sponsorship of RPM and Almirola has amplified its outreach efforts for Helping Hungry Homes, Smithfield’s hunger-relief initiative focused on alleviating hunger and helping all Americans become more food secure.

Smithfield has made a focused effort of giving back to the community, especially in NASCAR markets, through its partnership with RPM. In total, the Helping Hungry Homes program has provided more than 49 million servings of protein to food banks throughout the country.

“At Smithfield Foods, we feed people. It’s what we do,” said Dennis Pittman, senior director of hunger relief for the company. “Through Helping Hungry Homes, we are able to donate millions of pounds of nutritious, high-quality protein to food banks across the country each year.”

Pittman added that Almirola — a Cuban-American born in Florida whose father, Ralph, was born in Cuba — has been instrumental in helping with the Helping Hungry Homes program as well as getting involved in visiting schools and encouraging students from sometimes struggling Hispanic families to remain in school.

“Aric came to us and wanted to give back to the Hispanic community and inspire them to chase their dreams,” said Pittman. “Aric is the perfect example of the American Dream, and we were thrilled to be able to join together to give back to these kids and their families. The schools have high percentages of free or reduced lunches and low-income families, and we’re proud that we can take the burden off for one night and feed their families while Aric inspires them with his story.”

Finishing fourth in NASCAR’s most prestigious race certainly adds to Almirola’s success story. But now he said he must go to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend to continue getting after it in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 400.

“The Daytona 500, you always want to come out of there with a good start to the season,” Almirola said. “All in all it was a great day for us. We’ll take it and get ready for Atlanta.”