The latest to do so? Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola.
NASCAR Cup Series racers William Byron and Aric Almirola went Super Late Model racing Tuesday night as NASCAR’s summer break comes to a close.
The two drivers took part in Tuesday’s Gandrud Auto Group 250 at Wisconsin International Raceway, taking on the top stars of the ARCA Midwest Tour. Byron got the nod from Justin Oertel and Boris Jurkovic to drive the car normally ran weekly at Berlin Raceway by Jurkovic’s nephew Eric White, while Almirola reunited with Richie Wauters for the event.
Almirola finished 10th in the event, while Byron was credited with a 21st place finish after falling out of the race just after halfway due to an alternator belt issue.
For Byron, he used the race as an opportunity to learn for NASCAR’s playoffs while getting the chance to get back behind the wheel of a Super Late Model at a track he’s been interested in racing at for several years now.
“I got the call Thursday to do it and I got really excited. I’ve been wanting to race here for a while,” Byron told Speed51. “It’s always nice to get some more experience and have some fun.”
All three of Byron’s teammates have gone short track racing in the last few months. Along with Kyle Larson’s extensive dirt schedule, Chase Elliott returned to the Snowball Derby last December and has made Midget starts on the dirt, while Alex Bowman has used the two-week break in the schedule to make his debut in a Sprint Car.
After seeing his Hendrick Motorsports teammates get back on the short tracks, the itch became too strong for him.
Just knowing that we have the reigns loose on going to do other stuff, I think that it makes it definitely exciting to go do. I feel like it’s good for me to continue to learn. I only get to race on Sundays, we don’t get any practice right now. It’s nice to be able to go and get to race. – William Byron
The Gandrud Auto Group allowed Almirola to reunite with an old friend. The most recent winner with the Cup Series credits Richie Wauters for saving his NASCAR career by offering him a ride with the Truck Series in 2010, which he turned into two wins and a points runner-up.
Getting back in a Super Late Model had been on Almirola’s wish list for several years, and the break allowed him to cross it off.
Richie kind of saved my career, to be honest. I went back Truck racing after a failed attempt at Cup racing. I went Truck racing for Billy Ballew and Richie Wauters and we ran so good. In a 26-race schedule I think we had 22 top-tens. We won a few races and just barely missed the championship. Richie and I have had a lot of success on the racetrack. – Aric Almirola
Tuesday was the first time Almirola laid eyes on WIR, and the first thing he noticed was the uniqueness of the half-mile.
“It’s quite the place, it’s a really cool short track. I know a lot of great drivers have come out of here and it’s fun to race with all these guys here in the Midwest Tour. It’s a very unique racetrack but I enjoy that. When I was a teenager I grew up racing Super Late Models, this is what I cut my teeth doing and this is what gave me my opportunity to go to NASCAR. It’s such a joy to get back to grassroots racing and race with these guys.”
It was the first time either had been in a Super Late Model in several years. It had been five years since Byron’s last start at the 2016 Snowball Derby.
“I haven’t been in a Super in five years, so hopefully I know where the gas is and where the brake is and try to feel my way around the place,” Byron said before practice began. “It’s going to take a little bit but I’m excited. It’s going to take me getting into a little bit of a rhythm in practice to get going.”
For Almirola, it had been even longer. Before Tuesday night, his most recent starts came in 2012 with the ARCA Midwest Tour at the Milwaukee Mile for the Howie Lettow Memorial. He drove from 35th to eighth that afternoon, also driving for Richie Wauters.
He says returning to Super Late Model racing brings back memories to his childhood and climbing up the ladder to the sport’s highest level.
“It’s a lot of fun to come do something like this. There’s a lot less pressure. There’s a lot of competition and a lot of demand, but this is about passion and coming up here racing because I really enjoy it. This is what brings me back to my childhood and why I love racing.”
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51 Photo