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Almirola leaves Joe Gibbs to join Ginn Racing
Tampa native planned to be with team 'a long time' but is now leaving after five years.
By BRANT JAMES
Published July 18, 2007
Tampa native Aric Almirola broke into the sport because of an ad in a racing magazine that his mom found.
Aric Almirola's NASCAR career just took another lunge forward. The 23-year-old Tampa native will join Ginn Racing immediately as co-driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet in the Nextel Cup series with veteran Mark Martin, effectively ended a five-year relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Almirola's first race with Ginn will be Aug. 12, at Watkins Glen, N.Y., but he will contest five more Busch races for JGR as part of his contractual obligation.
Almirola did not returns calls on Tuesday, but said in a Ginn release, "(JGR) allowed me to get to this position by giving me a chance at a time when I had a lot of desire but little money. They saw what this opportunity with Ginn Racing meant to me, and they didn't stand in the way."
JGR president J.D. Gibbs did not return calls on Tuesday, but the team confirmed the details of the Ginn release. Almirola had been with the team since it gave him his break in 2003, then absorbed his Reggie White Motorsports team in 2004 following the NFL player's death. Deemed by Gibbs the likely driver of an eventual fourth Nextel Cup team at JGR, which has won three titles since 2000, Almirola advanced through a deep development program first racing Late Models, then in the Craftsman Truck Series and Busch Series. He made his Nextel Cup debut in Las Vegas this spring, finishing 41st. The JGR research and development program that fielded that effort had since been shut down for re-evaluation.
JGR had not yet finalized a full Busch Series program for him in 2008 or a Cup ride, either in a fourth car or as a replacement for struggling J.J. Yeley.
Almirola has a win, a top-5 and three top-10s in 22 Busch Series starts over two seasons and five top-10s in 30 truck series starts since 2005. His acquisition is part of a major restructuring for a team purchased last summer by Palm Coast developer Bobby Ginn. Rookie Regan Smith, 23, who has finished no better than 24th in five Cup starts in the No. 1, will replace 50-year-old Sterling Marlin in the No. 14 Chevrolet. The No. 13 program of Lakeland native Joe Nemechek, 43, will go dormant until a sponsor can be found. Both veterans are under contract until the end of the season but have been released to explore other options.
Almirola's career began in December 2003 when JGR invited him to test a Late Model with other diversity candidates in Hickory, N.C. His mother, Susan Lynette, learned of the opportunity from an ad in a racing magazine. Almirola had withdrawn from Central Florida's mechanical engineering program to move to North Carolina anyway and attempt to break into the sport. Setting the track record in front of Gibbs executives did the trick. He said until two weeks ago he planned to be with the team "a long time."