JR Motorsports general manager Kelley Earnhardt announced Wednesday that the team has signed Aric Almirola to a multi-year contract for the company's flagship No. 88 Nationwide Series team starting in 2011.
Almirola, 26, has 32 career Nationwide Series starts, including one for JR Motorsports in which he finished third at O'Reilly Raceway Park in July. Almirola's full-time duties as the No. 88 driver will officially begin in 2011, but he could potentially fill the seat in select races this season while he continues to run for a Truck Series championship.
"The chance to drive full time in the Nationwide Series with a top caliber team is something I am extremely excited about," Almirola said. "I was at the shop [Tuesday], and Kelley gathered all the employees around to announce our deal. The energy and excitement was addicting. We raced at ORP together a month ago and had a really good run. There is no reason why we cannot compete like that every race, and there is no reason why we shouldn't be running for a championship. I would expect nothing less."
Almirola competed in the Nationwide Series with Joe Gibbs Racing from 2006-'07, earning three poles and six top-10s. He is credited with one victory – the June 23, 2007, race at Milwaukee in which he and Denny Hamlin shared seat time in the victorious No. 20 car. Dale Earnhardt Inc. subsequently signed Almirola to a part-time driving deal in 2007, splitting seat time with Mark Martin. Almirola continued racing in sporadic Cup and Nationwide series races in 2009 and 2010, but switched to the Truck Series for a full-time deal this year with Billy Ballew Motorsports. Thus far, Almirola has two wins (Dover on May 14 and Michigan on June 12) and has finished in the top 10 in all but four events. He currently sits second in the championship point standings.
"If there is a quintessential JR Motorsports driver, we feel it's Aric Almirola," Kelley Earnhardt said. "The way he drives, the ambition he carries, the way he represents himself on and off the track, it all fits within our company's dynamics, our core objectives, and the values of our sponsorship partners. We look forward to putting him in our No. 88 car so he can continue his success."
The team also fields Danica Patrick in selected Nationwide Series races, and she is expected to remain in that role next year.