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June 22, 2020

Aric Almirola

Lincoln, Alabama

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Aric Almirola. A pretty wild finish. I'm not sure if you ever crossed the finish line backwards before. Take us through the race and especially the finish, please.
ARIC ALMIROLA: Yeah, so close with our Smithfield Ford Mustang. We had the strategy of kind of riding around surviving most of the race. We didn't race very aggressively early on in the race. As the laps wound down, I got to the front, then I got shuffled. Right there on that restart we found ourselves back in position. We had a really fast Ford Mustang.
I thought when everybody started getting stacked up on the front straightaway, I was shooting for whatever hole was open, kind of ping‑ponging, weaving my way through there. I got all the way to the front row. I saw the 12 and 20 side‑by‑side side drafting, had a big head of steam on them. Honestly thought that I was going to get to the start/finish line before them.
When I crossed through the tri‑oval, I thought we were going to win the race, I was going so much faster than they were. I just barely got clipped by I think the 47 and spun across the start/finish line, ended up third.
I'm happy to finish top five another week in a row. Felt like we were really close to winning that one.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for Aric.

Q. Curious about how the revision to the rules package worked. Were the runs just less enough that you could race a little bit more without having to worry about running over each other?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Yeah, the runs did seem a little slower. The other thing I noticed was with the cars going a little bit slower, we didn't get the typical single file out right around the fence. We kind of stayed more packed up and together, which to me, I thought there was going to be more wrecks because of it. Early in the race I saw what I had in my racecar, I thought I had a really fast car. I chose to kind of ride around and survive.
These races usually have a lot of attrition, a lot of wrecks, the big one. I thought our strategy was to make sure we were there at the end. We did that. The package seemed to keep the cars a lot closer together. Nobody really broke away.

Q. Could you take me through the last 12 hours or so with the drivers, how you learned about what happened yesterday in the garage, how you decided to do what you did before the race.
ARIC ALMIROLA: I got to be honest, I'm not extremely active on social media or with the news in general. I tend to live in my own little bubble with my wife and kids. I hate to admit that to you journalists, but that's just the truth. I actually didn't find out till I got on the plane to come here this morning about 10:00.
My immediate reaction was just speechless. I couldn't believe that somebody would do that. I didn't know really what to think, other than there's just a lot of sadness, a lot of hurt people, a lot of sadness.
I know just from my 36 years of experience on this earth that hurt people hurt people. Happy people don't hurt people. You see people lash out, show signs of evil and darkness. It just comes from a bad place.
I think the most important thing you can respond with that is light and love and showing how to stand up and how to show positivity and have a heart.
I feel like as an industry, that's what we did today.

Q. Do you know who was responsible for putting that together on the driver side?
ARIC ALMIROLA: It was a collective effort. They started on the group chat of what are we going to do, how are we going to stand together. Everybody with the 'I Stand With Bubba' kind of came together and said let's literally stand with him and show our support collectively as a unit.
So, yeah, everybody jumped onboard.

Q. What was it like when you were standing with Bubba, walking the car down pit lane? What emotions were you feeling or sensing around you?
ARIC ALMIROLA: It was a lot of emotion. I think we were all just proud to be together. I think as competitors we all want to beat each other, but as human beings we all want to show love and support for each other.
I think that's one thing about our NASCAR community that has always stood out, is that regardless of what happens on the racetrack, off the racetrack we're a family. We all support each other. You see it when we put fundraisers on or foundation events. We all show up. We all support each other because we're a family.
We live next door to each other 38 weeks a year in the motorhome lot. When you see a brother that's being singled out, that's being hurt, you want to show love and you want to show support.
For me it was just a great reminder of why to have faith. I'm a strong believer in Christ and God. I think as brothers of the human race, we got to stand up for each other and love each other and show that we won't stand for somebody being hurt in our community.

Q. With Pocono coming up next weekend, would you like to see NASCAR continue to do anything to prevent something like this happening? Would you like to see NASCAR make any changes going forward to prevent this or protect Bubba?
ARIC ALMIROLA: I think they're doing it. You saw the response immediately upon them finding out. They have deployed all resources to try and figure out how it happened and who did it, to rectify it, make sure that whoever that person is, you know, never participates in our sport again because we don't have room for those people.
On top of that, I think that sets the precedence and the tone going forward that this is not something that's a joke. It's not something that we will take lightly. It's a serious matter. I think NASCAR has done an incredible job of navigating these last several weeks.

Q. You've been in the sport long enough. How do you view how the sport has evolved, the drivers have evolved, what you have done the last two weeks compared to earlier in your career? How have you become more socially aware and willing to speak up than maybe years ago?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Yeah, so personally, and I'm going to do my best to not make this about me, because this is not about me, I'll make that very clear. I came through the diversity program. I would not have the opportunity to be sitting here in front of you today if it wasn't for Reggie White, a black NFL football player who decided to put together a diversity program with Joe Gibbs and Joe Gibbs Racing. That's how I got my opportunity.
I'm a Cuban American. My dad and his whole side of the family came from Cuba in 1966. So growing up trying to race as a Cuban American, sure, I've had things said to me, things that were offensive, that hurt. I actually told Bubba this morning that on a very, very small scale I can relate and I can empathize. I have never had to go through what he's had to go through in the last couple weeks, and especially in the last 24 hours. I feel for him immensely.
I think that the sport has worked so hard since I got my opportunity in 2004 to adapt. I think forever NASCAR has been considered an All‑American sport. All of America has changed and evolved a lot over time. I think that NASCAR has done an incredible job of being inclusive and making sure that the garage area, the spectators, the fan area, that they all resemble all of America.
I have been so proud to be a part of that initiative and that drive. I am making this very clear, this is not about me. I'm just saying I have had a firsthand look at it from the very beginning when NASCAR started the whole diversity program and the Drive for Diversity. I have gotten so much opportunity because of that. I am so grateful and thankful.
They continue to adapt and evolve and make our sport a more inclusive sport where people can feel welcome. If you like racecars, fast racecars, the adrenaline rush of cars going 200 miles an hour side‑by‑side like you saw today, you should be able to come and be a part of it whether as a competitor or spectator and participate and enjoy it.

Q. You mentioned Reggie White. His involvement was cut short with his death. On a weekend like this, what does it mean that even now years later there's still an impact of what Reggie did that maybe many people overlook?
ARIC ALMIROLA: I feel lucky and I feel fortunate that somebody would step up and step out like he did to start the program that he did. Reggie, the very first time I met him, he said, The reason I'm doing this is I love racecars, I love cars, I love watching racing. Coming with Coach to watch a few of these NASCAR races, I fell in love. I want to start a team and give a driver, drivers, crew members an opportunity from the grassroots level to work their way into the system.
That's exactly how I got my opportunity. I'm so proud of him and his wife Sarah and Matt Siegel was a part of that when it all started, all those people along with J.D. and Joe Gibbs put that program together and started the diversity program. I got to be the lucky person that got to fulfill my dreams because of that.
THE MODERATOR: Aric, thank you so much for your time and your great comments. Safe trip back to Charlotte.
ARIC ALMIROLA: Thanks, guys.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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