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How one NASCAR driver is waiting out the pandemic in Florida

In some ways, Hillsborough High alumnus Aric Almirola has more downtime than usual. In others, he’s busier than he ever has been.

The coronavirus pandemic has made life as weird for NASCAR’s Aric Almirola as it is for everyone else.

In some ways, the Hillsborough High alumnus has a lot more downtime than usual as long as NASCAR’s Cup Series remains parked. But in other ways, his schedule is crammed, with two children to guide through online schooling, an exercise regimen to maintain and sponsors to continue plugging.

“I’m busier now than I’ve ever been in my entire career, to be honest,” Almirola said earlier this week.

Just differently busy.

Normally, Almirola would be eight races into a 36-event grind that lasts from February to November. When he’s not at the shop or at the track, he’s dealing with sponsors or media.

“When the season’s going on, I am going 100 mph every day of the week,” Almirola said. “Except on Sunday, then I’m going 200 mph.”

Now that he can’t go anywhere at any speed, the 36-year-old is trying to savor the extra time family time. Board games. Movies. Online lessons. He can eat all three meals with his wife and kids.

“That’s been really nice to be intentional with the kids, to be one on one with the kids,” Almirola said. “Being present and slowing down and reading books and doing all those things life is too busy and gets in the way of.”

Life is still busy, even without family obligations.

Although he hasn’t participated in NASCAR’s iRacing events, Almirola is staying in shape through running, cycling and circuit training as he waits out the pandemic near Naples. He’s having regular conversations and video conferences with his team and crew chief about different scenarios and different tracks.

Related: The line between video games and racing isn’t blurring. It’s disappearing.

“All of those things are still happening,” Almirola said. “I’m still staying engaged daily with those people.”

He’s also staying engaged with his longtime sponsor, Smithfield. Instead of driving a car with its logo on the hood, he’s promoting the brand on social media, detailing some of the ways he’s been cooking with bacon.

“I want to — not out of have-to or requirement,” Almirola said. “I want to out of my own desire to make sure that they are taken care of.”

Related: Ask Aric Almirola: How’d your partnership with longtime sponsor Smithfield start?

And when it’s safe, Almirola is ready to get back to taking care of them by driving the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

Before the pandemic, his team had cars ready for what would have been the next month or so. They would still need to be fine-tuned for the next race — tentatively scheduled for May 9 at Martinsville — but Almirola said it wouldn’t take too long for his team to go from 0 back to 200 mph.

“I think once we get the all-clear,” Almirola said, “we could be back to going to a race track within a week or two.”

All they need is the all-clear — just like everyone else.