Cuban American Aric Almirola, NASCAR’s ‘Cuban Missile,’ returns to Miami for the Ford EcoBoost 400 in Homestead

For Cuban Americans, Miami always feels like home whether they were raised there or not. And NASCAR’s “Cuban Missile,” Aric Almirola, always looks forward to his yearly visit “home.”

David Wilson in The Miami Herald:

This is why the ‘Cuban Missile’ is NASCAR’s most unlikely contender for the championship

Every time he steps off a plane at Miami International Airport, Aric Almirola feels like he’s at home. Born on Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach and raised in Tampa, Almirola doesn’t get to South Florida much beyond ahead of his yearly race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but it always feels familiar.

The tropical climate. The Spanish conversations he can overhear. It’s all feels natural to Almirola, whose father emigrated from Cuba to the United States as a child.

“When you step off the airplane and you get that warm, muggy ocean air and you drive around and you see the Hispanic communities and the culture down there, I feel like I’m at home,” Almirola said. “That’s home for me, so I love going to race at Homestead.”

The time he spends in Miami ahead of the annual Ford EcoBoost 400 in Homestead is always special to the driver whom fans call “The Cuban Missile.”

Ralph Almirola Jr. was only 4 in 1966 when he, his brother and his parents took a Freedom Flight from Cuba to Miami. Eighteen years later, Almirola was a member of the United States Air Force when Aric was born. Even though the Almirola’s didn’t live in Cuba or even Miami, Aric was brought up in the culture.

Certainly, it made him stand out a bit as he was rising through the ranks. There weren’t many Hispanic kids competitively racing the go-karts with which Almirola got his start.

Even now, most of his wins on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series hold some sort of historic significance.

In 2015, Almirola became the first Hispanic driver to race a full season of the NASCAR Cup Series. On Saturday, he secured his second career win at the 500 in Talladega, Alabama, clinching his spot in the Round of 8 in the NASCAR playoffs.

If he advances one more round, he’ll be in the Championship 4 with a chance to win a NASCAR title at Homestead-Miami on Nov. 18.

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