THE BACON GUY: Aric Almirola, the fun winner from 2018, is back at Talladega

Sep. 26—Remember the "Bacon Guy" at Talladega Superspeedway?

Five years ago, NASCAR Cup Series driver Aric Almirola was part of a promotion with Smithfield, which has been his sponsor for his entire Cup career. If Almirola won the fall race at Talladega that year, a fan would get free bacon for life. Almirola seemed to have a lot of fun promoting the contest, often referring to "bringing home the bacon."

Danged if he didn't win, and Joseph Craig of Little Rock, Ark., got a surprise visit from the driver with his prize.

Almirola is back at Talladega this week, racing in Sunday's Yellawood 500. He's 22nd in the Cup standings and isn't in the playoffs, which is down to 12 drivers. Making the Cup playoffs is fiercely competitive these days, so it isn't unusual for good drivers to find themselves on the outside. Even names like Kevin Harvick, defending champ Joey Logano and 2020 champ Chase Elliott are out of the running, too.

"Talladega is always intense, but it's even more intense at the end of the season and in the playoffs," Almirola said in a transcript released by his communications team. "Everyone knows they have a shot to win at Talladega if they can be there at the end. It levels the playing field, so you have all the guys racing for a playoff spot and all the guys who want to get a win in the 2023 season that aren't in the playoffs.

"The stakes are high and a lot of aggressive racing happens."

Whether he's in the playoffs or not, Almirola is at his best at Talladega. That win in 2018 is one of his three Cup victories in his career. Almirola also has nine top-10 finishes, five top-fives, and has led 107 laps.

With his third-place finish in the June 2020 race at Talladega, Almirola tied the record of eight straight top-10s at the superspeedway. He shares the mark with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who made the top 10 eight straight times from April 2001 to October 2004. Almirola's streak ended when he got caught up in a wreck on lap 57 of the October 2020 race.

Almirola also won the Xfinity Series race at Talladega in May 2017.

"I love Talladega and have always seemed to find my way up front," Almirola said. "The 10 team always brings the speed to superspeedway races and they give me a great-handling car to make it happen.

"A lot of guys have Talladega circled on the calendar and a lot of guys don't love it in the playoffs. It could either make or break your playoff run."

And, yes, he hasn't forgotten about that bacon-winning race.

"I'm excited to just get out there knowing we'll have a shot to run up front and bring home the bacon like we did in 2018," he said.

Almirola's 2018 win came in his first year at Stewart-Haas Racing, and it pushed Almirola to the playoff semifinals. He finished the season a career-best fifth in the championship standings.

Another statistic of note to keep in mind this week: he's still good at superspeedway tracks. According to his race team, he has led laps in all five superspeedway-style races this year. He led 16 laps Feb. 19 in the season-opening Daytona 500, 17 laps March 19 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, 11 laps April 23 at Talladega, 46 laps from the pole July 9 at Atlanta, and three laps Aug. 26 at Daytona.

Senior Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.