HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Winning races is the goal for Aric Almirola and Ryan Truex as they take on partial Xfinity Series schedules with Joe Gibbs Racing, but both drivers have an equally important objective – guiding the next generation of drivers.
"My goal is to do whatever I possibly can — whether it's inside the race car or outside of the race car — to hopefully contribute in some way, shape or form to make this place better than it already is," Almirola said ahead of his 19th season in NASCAR.
"I sometimes wonder if that's possible. I wonder if I will be able to, but I'll wake up everyday trying."
Almirola and Truex, who made his first NASCAR national series start in 2010, are the two veterans in JGR’s four-car lineup that includes William Sawalich, Taylor Gray, Joe Graf Jr., Chandler Smith and Sheldon Creed. John Hunter Nemechek also will make limited starts while focusing on his return to full-time Cup competition.
Almirola and Truex are the oldest drivers in the lineup at 39 and 31, respectively, and they have considerable experience across the national three series.
Almirola has made 460 starts in Cup with three wins and 96 top-10 finishes. He’s made 104 starts in Xfinity with four wins and 78 starts in Trucks with two wins.
Truex has made 73 starts in Trucks, 90 in Xfinity and 26 in Cup. He scored his first career Xfinity win last season at Dover.
“My stats don't say that I am the most accomplished racecar driver, my stats don't say that I'm a superstar Cup champion, but I've been around the sport for a long time,” Almirola said.
“I have a lot of experience both dealing with different personalities as crew chiefs and spotters, and, you know, managing what my work week should look like and taking on the term 'professional' as something that means more than just that you get a paycheck.”
Almirola and Truex have experienced the joy of winning. They have also struggled through difficult seasons after entering with high expectations. Both drivers have made starts for a variety of teams.
Truex, in particular, nearly succumbed to his inner voice telling him to quit multiple times. He persevered and ultimately celebrated in victory lane.
Now Almirola and Truex have an opportunity to pass on their knowledge to young drivers.
“I feel like not too long ago, I was in their shoes, so I know how much they'll want to not listen to certain things,” Truex told NBC Sports. “But I do feel like there's definitely a lot — really there’s a lot of things — I’ve done wrong that I can tell them not to do.
“…There's so many more resources and things now that we didn't have 10 years ago. There's just a lot more to lean on as drivers, so I think having that for them is a huge help. What I can help them with is things to look out for on the track, how to communicate with your crew chief and really, how to communicate with people in general.”
This willingness to provide guidance is welcome for the young drivers in the JGR lineup, two of which will be making their Xfinity Series debuts this season and adjusting to an entirely different racing experience.
Taylor Gray, who competes full-time in the Truck Series for Tricon Garage, will make his first Xfinity start this season. So will ARCA Menards Series East champion William Sawalich, who will start the final three races of the season in the No. 19 Toyota.
“The cars are clearly different, it's just something out of my nature I've dealt with so far,” Gray told NBC Sports. “Talking with Sheldon, Chandler, and my teammates — Aric has been a huge help, an open book pretty much. I sit down and talk to him whenever, so it’s been pretty awesome.”
Not every driver in the JGR lineup is new to the Xfinity Series. Sheldon Creed and Chandler Smith, the team’s two full-time drivers, both made the playoffs last season while driving for Richard Childress Racing and Kaulig Racing, respectively.
Creed has success in NASCAR’s national series with a Truck Series championship on his resume. Yet he enters his first season at JGR with one big goal — rebuild his confidence after two winless seasons in Xfinity where he struggled to break through.
“I think Aric is going to be someone that I'm gonna lean on a lot,” Creed said about his approach to this season. “We have him at our disposal and he’s here for that reason – for us to be able to ask him questions and lean on him.
“So I fully plan on and intend on doing that. Ryan Truex, a lot of experience, won a race last year. And we're buddies behind the scenes too.”
As part-time drivers, Almirola and Truex may not necessarily be in the building every day of the week or even every week of the season. They will still try to make an impact every time they talk to the other drivers in the lineup.
After all, they know what it's like to be the new kid in NASCAR.
"I was that kid, I was that teenager," Almirola said. "I showed up to Joe Gibbs Racing at 19 years old so I know what it's like to be in their shoes. Just be able to kind of share 20 years of experience with them and what that has looked like. Yeah, that's that's my job."