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Aric Almirola to Drive Hattori No. 16 Truck at North Wilkesboro

Driver Photo: Jonathan McCoy, Overbey Photography

For the first time this year, Hattori Racing Enterprises (HRE) is returning to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, entering the No. 16 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro in the Tyson Brand 250 at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Aric Almirola, a part-time Xfinity Series competitor for Joe Gibbs Racing, will get behind the wheel of the HRE-prepared entry at the historic 0.625-mile facility. The event will mark the first Truck Series start for the Tampa, Florida-native since 2012.

“North Wilkesboro is a unique track, and it was definitely different last year with the old and worn-out racing surface,” Almirola said. “I think it will be a completely different experience this year with the new pavement.”

Sponsorship for the effort will come from Toyota Tsusho, which contributes to local economies all over North America via our expertise in multiple industries, including supply-chain management, logistics, importing, and exporting.

Richie Wauters, a former crew chief in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, will be atop the pit box of the No. 16 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro at North Wilkesboro, calling the shots in a NASCAR event for the first time in seven years.

“Getting back to the truck series with Richie has been something I’ve been looking forward to since we first discussed racing at North Wilkesboro a few months ago,” Wauters explained. “I want to thank Shige Hattori for the opportunity to drive the No. 16 Toyota Tsusho Toyota Tundra TRD Pro for the Wright Brands 250.”

For Almirola, the May 18 event at North Wilkesboro will mark a reunion with the crew chief who carried him to a runner-up point finish in the NASCAR Truck Series in 2010, while driving for Billy Ballew Motorsports.

The pairing last worked together in 2012, when Almirola ran three NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events for Wauters Motorsports, scoring the organization’s first-ever top-five finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

For the most part, Wauters has been absent from the Truck Series since the team’s last race in 2017. However, in 2020, he teamed up with James Finch and Billy Ballew to field an entry for Erik Jones at Charlotte — which due to COVID protocols failed to make the race.

In February 2021, Wauters revealed to TobyChristie.com that the organization was scheduled to run full-time with James Buescher before a sponsor that had previously committed, backed out.

Partnering with the 2018 NASCAR Truck Series championship-winning team Hattori Racing Enterprises, Almirola will look to bolster his solid resume in the series, which includes a pair of victories with Billy Ballew Motorsports in 2010.

Shige Hattori, owner of Hattori Racing Enterprises, is excited to have Almirola, a multi-time winner in the NASCAR Cup Series, behind the wheel of the No. 16 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro at North Wilkesboro.

“We’re excited to have Aric behind the wheel of our Toyota Tsusho Toyota Tundra TRD Pro at North Wilkesboro. His experience in the series, particularly in the early days of his career, will be invaluable,” said Hattori. “He understands the unique challenges of these vehicles and this historic track. Aric will also give us a great understanding of where we are at as a team and give us some valuable feedback”.

Earlier this year, in his fourth race back with Joe Gibbs Racing, the 40-year-old racer proved that he was still capable of winning, scoring a NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at Martinsville Speedway.

However, with no owner points accumulated this year for the No. 16, Almirola will have to earn his spot in the field via time trials, in which the long-time Cup Series driver will have to qualify inside the top 31.

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