The veteran driver is vying for his fifth Cup Series Playoff appearance, in what will be his last opportunity at a championship. Six races remain in the regular season before the Playoff field is set and Almirola is still searching for his first win of the year. He has three career Cup victories, but currently sits 12th in the regular-season standings, 42 points out of a playoff spot.

Almirola is in his tenth full-time season, and his fourth with Stewart Haas Racing. Before this season began, the 38-year old announced that this would be his final year as a full-time driver, wanting to spend more time with family as his two kids grow up.

“I want to be present. I want to be the best husband and father, and that to me means more than being a racecar driver. So, it’s one more year where I’m all in on racing, where we’ll do whatever it takes to compete at the highest level. But when the season is over, I’ll be ready to wave goodbye. I’ve loved every minute of it, but it’s time for the next chapter of my life.”

This weekend is a special one for Aric and this team. Today's race at New Hampshire is the site of their last victory, when the No. 10 car shot his way through the field from the 22nd starting position to take the checkered flag. That win was somewhat surprising in NASCAR circles but not for Almirola.

"Nobody should have thought that we were going to win," Almirola quipped. "Only our race team is the people that should have thought that or believed that. It feels good to be the underdog and kind of come out of nowhere and have a race car like we did, kind of put it to them at the end of the race and drive off and go win this race."

While the victory did come out of nowhere, it should not be that surprising that he was running up front in Loudon. Almirola has been consistently good here over the last few years. In his last four New Hampshire starts (all with SHR) he has finished 3rd, 11th, 7th, and 1st. He led laps in all four races and started the 2020 race from pole position.

"This is by far one of my favorite race tracks," Almirola said after winning last year. "I love coming up to the New England area and racing. I love this race track. We’ve been through so much. Everybody has just been working so hard. There’ve been so many people who have continued to support us."

Qualifying 7th yesterday, Almirola was the fastest Ford driver at New Hampshire.

Although his success at New Hampshire provides plenty of optimism heading into today's race, this season has definitely not gone the way Almirola had envisioned. Things started out well with a top-five in the Daytona 500 and a pair of 6th place finishes the next two weekends. Things got rough after that, as he scored just one top-ten finish (8th) over the course of the next 11 races.

The last five races have been a mixed bag for the No. 10 team. They matched their best finish of the season at Gateway, but followed that up with results of 14th, 17th, and 28th. Last weekend they rallied for an under-the-radar 8th place result, giving them a little momentum heading into this weekend.

"It’s been a good year, just hasn’t been great," Almirola said about his season thus far. "We’ve missed getting the Victory Lane a few times but overall, we’ve had a lot of consistency and we’ve run well. I feel like we’re starting to figure out this new car. Every track is different and we’re learning that last year’s success doesn’t guarantee success this year. We’ve had to re-evaluate and adapt the way we attack the weekend and the setups, and everything is so unique and so new with this car that it’s still a learning process."

Through 19 races this season, Almirola has led just a total of six laps. Those all came in the March Atlanta race, and he will need to add to that total if he is going to be a factor today. There have been 50 Cup races at New Hampshire and a driver winning back-to-back races here has happened four times. The last to accomplish that feat was his teammate Kevin Harvick when he won the 2018 and 2019 races.

Once considered one of the premier teams in the garage, SHR has recently had a couple of down years. Harvick's 64-race winless drought after winning ten races the year before that is one example. Cole Custer has not produced the results needed and Almirola is falling into that same box. Chase Briscoe has been the lone bright spot as of late, but he too is struggling to find consistency.

Back in January the team announced that Drew Blickensderfer was leaving Front Row Motorsports to be the crew chief for the No. 10 car. The Daytona 500 winner was reunited with Almirola, whom he worked with at Richard Petty Motorsports. “Drew has been in the sport a long time and knows how to get the best out of the people around him, and that’s really what the job of crew chief has become,” said Greg Zipadelli, SHR VP of competition.

The idea behind that move was to aid with the steep learning curve that the Next Gen car would produce. Since the two already had a working relationship, it seemingly would help them get up to speed much faster. That hasn't quite worked out the way the team had planned, but there is still time for them to make some magic happen.

“The main thing is that this team does not give up,” Almirola said. “Every race this season has had its ups and downs and we have made the most out of the day we are given. No matter the circumstances, we race for one more spot until the checkered flag waves, and I think our position is the points has shown that. Our time will come.”

While Almirola will not be back next season, the team is still pushing on despite all of the unknowns. "It's been business as usual, going to the race track and focused on winning races and continuing to do what we need to do to make the playoffs. But all the stuff behind the scenes, yeah, I’ve been involved in a part of trying to help Smithfield and help Stewart Haas Racing figure out what their plan is going forward, and I think there’s still just a lot of question marks just in general about what that’s going to look like."

No matter how this season plays out, Almirola is going to be thankful that he was able to enjoy the ride. There was a time when he thought it would all be taken away. "When I wrecked at Kansas and broke my back in 2017, I wasn’t sure if that was going to be the end of my career. At the end of the day, trophies collect dust, and I don’t put all of my stock and all my weight in being a champion."

Almirola definitely sounds like a man that has his priorities in order. "It’s been a great ride," he said. "I have been blessed beyond my wildest imagination and I honestly have no regrets. I want to win and I want to be a champion, but at the end of the day, I know that those things mean way less than being there for my family."