For all of the reasons why Tampa’s Aric Almirola has risen through NASCAR’s ranks to become a playoff contender at Cup power team Stewart-Haas Racing, one of the most important is also one of the easiest to overlook.His sponsors.The Hillsborough High alumnus has been working with meat processor Smithfield for eight years, which helps give him the financial backing to race for a top-12 team heading into Sunday’s race at Sonoma.The Tampa Bay Times asked the driver of the No. 10 Ford about his partnership with Smithfield in Ask Aric — a periodic feature where the NASCAR playoff contender shares his thoughts on racing, the season and his hometown. Smithfield has been one of your sponsors for a while. How did that relationship with them begin? Smithfield and I are going on eight years of being together. That means a lot to me. That means that we have a true partnership. I think it’s something that I’ve worked very hard on. I learned the hard way when I was young coming up in the sport. I always just assumed that I was a race car driver. I just want to be the race car driver, drive the cars, and the teams will worry about the sponsors. I learned the hard way that without a sponsor, I don’t have a job.I’ve totally shifted my mind-set on that. Many years ago, even before Smithfield, I made it a point to build and create relationships with the people that sponsor me and to not just view them as a company that puts stickers on my race car —to really view them as a sponsor and a company that I have a vested interest in helping them grow and do well, whether it be at retail or just business in general.I need that company to succeed, and I need to do my part to help that company succeed in every way that I can to make sure that they’re getting the most value out of sponsors me as the driver and the race team that I’m racing for.I think the fact that I’ve been with them for eight years points to the fact that I’m doing my part, that we’ve built a great relationship and that we enjoy working together, that they see value in me. And I work my butt off to try and ensure that I provide as much value as possible.