CONCORD, N.C. - Joe Gibbs Racing has elected to not to field Aric Almirola in the NASCAR Busch Series race at Memphis, Tenn., which team president J.D. Gibbs had promised Almirola after he was pulled from the Milwaukee race earlier this season in favor of Denny Hamlin.
Almirola, who has already moved to Dale Earnhardt Inc. and will share a Nextel Cup Series ride with veteran Mark Martin next season, was informed this week of the team’s decision and called the move “very disappointing.”
Almirola will be replaced in the No. 20 Chevrolet by JGR teammate J.J. Yeley, who is also leaving the organization at season's end.
“It was something I was really looking forward to and I was looking forward to finishing out the year strong with Joe Gibbs Racing. I still plan to. will still drive the Busch race at Homestead,” Almirola said.
“I typically run a little bit better (at Memphis) because I’m a little more accustomed to short-track racing. I don’t know what happened really. Nonetheless, it’s just a part of life and life goes on.”
Gibbs had offered the Memphis race – originally planned for Hamlin since his Cup sponsor is headquartered in the city – as a make-up for the incident at Milwaukee.
Even after JGR announced Almirola's upcoming departure at the end of the year, a news release from the team stated he would continue to drive the rest of his scheduled Busch races with JGR.
Hamlin was supposed to start the Milwaukee race, but was late arriving from Sonoma, Calif. Almirola qualified the car and won the pole and when Hamlin didn’t show, started the race. During the first round of pit stops and Almirola running third, he was ordered out of the car and Hamlin got in.
Hamlin went on to win the race, but Almirola received the trophy, the prize money and was credited with the victory since he started the race in the car. Almirola, however, did not attend Victory Lane ceremonies.
“Aric and I have talked about it and he knows that if he was still going to be a part of JGR next year, we’d be running him in every race we could right now,” team president J.D. Gibbs said.
“Milwaukee was frustrating for everybody. But when we started this development driver program, our goal was to get Aric into Cup and he will have that opportunity to do that with an experienced veteran like Mark Martin next year.
“In my mind it’s mission accomplished. We’re certainly not trying to slight Aric. He and I have talked a lot about the situation and most of it will stay between us.”