NASCAR driver Aric Almirola finished fifth in Sunday's running of the Daytona 500. But, one of his favorite tracks is Road America in Sheboygan County.
The Cuban-American driver says he will retire from NASCAR at the end of the 2022 season, and as for his fifth place finish at Daytona? He says he'll want that one back for sure, thinking he had a real shot to win at what could be his last race there.
"We need to be up there in the Midwest and in Wisconsin specifically," Almirola says. "I mean the fan base there is tremendous. There's so many hardcore racers and race fans that come out of Wisconsin. The short track scene in Wisconsin is phenomenal."
Yet Almirola's thoughts turn to another Wisconsin track, the Milwaukee Mile.
"I loved going to Milwaukee, it was one of my favorite race tracks," Almirola says. "Obviously, I had success there and was always fast. I just remember thinking how cool it was. You would drive into the race track and there was just homes all around there. You're racing literally in people's backyards."
In 2007, Almirola started the Busch Series race on the pole, only to be pulled for Denny Hamlin.
"I wasn't really sure what was going on," Almirola says. "Even still to this day, there's a lot of things that happened behind the scenes that ultimately led to that, that I was unaware of. Certainly a day that caused a lot of growth for me, both personally and professionally. I'm a true believer that God allows things to happen for a reason."
Plus, Almirola has another strong Wisconsin connection as an original Joe Gibbs/Reggie White driver development selection.
"Nobody deserves to be given anything, right?" Almirola says. "That was for me, what I was so thankful for. I was given an opportunity. Once I had the opportunity, it was up to me to make the most of it. Reggie White and Joe Gibbs started that diversity program and Reggie came to the shop several times. I remember shaking his hand and I've got a sizable hand myself. I wear an extra large or sometimes an XXL glove and I remember shaking Reggie's hand and feeling so small."