Gibbs encouraged Almirola to leave

Team president says Aric Almirola has a better opportunity with Ginn Racing than with JGR.

Published July 19, 2007

Faced with the realization that his team couldn't offer a similar opportunity in the near term and confident that it was a wise move, Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs said he encouraged Tampa native Aric Almirola to leave his team for Ginn Racing.

Almirola, a 23-year-old who in parts of four seasons has advanced through JGR's deep developmental system to race in all three of NASCAR's top series, will share time with veteran Mark Martin in the No. 01 Chevrolet beginning Aug. 12 at Watkins Glen, N.Y. JGR could not even guarantee a partial Busch Series schedule for 2008 because of sponsor issues, Gibbs said, and a fourth Cup program might be two years away.

"It's hard for us, because obviously I want to see him here forever," Gibbs said in a phone interview Wednesday. "I couldn't tell him, 'Right now, yeah, we've got a full ride for you in the Busch Series.' And if I can't tell him that, I don't want to sit here and four months from now tell him, 'Oh, you let that opportunity go. We only have a partial schedule again.'

"That's not in his best interests, or our best interests. Because in my mind, I know the guys at Ginn, I know how vital Mark Martin is in all that - I really think a lot of him"

Gibbs said Ginn executives had Almirola's representation approach JGR about the idea of a team switch. He said they had been "brainstorming the idea" about a month ago. Gibbs then discussed it with Martin.

"I think, to Ginn's credit and Mark, they came and talked to us first and said, 'Hey, here's something we're looking at.' They didn't grab Aric and say, 'Hey, we want you to do this. You go talk to Gibbs,' " Gibbs said. "They did it the right way. They asked about the possibilities, if this could work, and we sat down and kind of addressed it then. We sat down with Aric and said, 'Here's a possibility. What do you think?' "

Gibbs said the team wouldn't add a fourth car "until it made sense. Though Gibbs said it was his hope the inconsistent J.J. Yeley would perform well enough to return to the No. 18 program next season, he "wouldn't say definitely," that would be the case.

Almirola, who could not be reached Wednesday for comment, had been contractually bound to JGR through 2008 and will race five more Busch events for the team this season. He is scheduled to drive the No. 01 this season at Watkins Glen.

But is he ready?

"Yeah," Gibbs said. "The good thing is, he's not driving the full season. So you can kind of take your time and go out and practice as well as running some other races next year. I think that all adds up ... and he's good. He's a good race car driver. Put yourself in his shoes, I would kind of want to have that happen and to have it handled that way. We'll still be friends."

FORMULA ONE: Gil de Ferran has left his job as sporting director of Team Honda. The 2003 Indy 500 champ left the team by mutual agreement to pursue other opportunities, Honda chief executive Nick Fry said. Honda has struggled this season, with Jenson Button in 16th place and Rubens Barrichello in 18th in the F1 drivers' standings.

For the full interview with J.D. Gibbs about Aric Almirola, go to http://blogs.tampabay.com/racing. Information from Times wires was used in this report.