By Sarah Handy, Staff Writer
Stewart Haas Racing driver Aric Almirola saw an up and down year in his No. 10 Ford Mustang, but the Tampa, Florida native was able to cap off his rollercoaster of a season with a sixth-place finish at Phoenix Raceway.
Rolling off from the 18th starting start in Sunday’s season finale, Almirola’s No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang didn’t stay there long as he quickly moved his way forward. When the caution flew on lap 14, he was already up four spots to 14th.
Early on, Almirola’s only complaint was that he could use some more side bite and turn in the middle of the exit. Even so, he continued to advance and would finish stage one in 12th.
By lap 107 Almirola entered the top-nine running order, but would opt to pit for four tires, fuel, and adjustments during a lap-130 caution that pushed him back to 12th on the restart. Having worked his way back to ninth, another caution would come out on lap 140. Unfortunately for Almirola, he would be served with a pit road speeding penalty and have to restart at the rear of the field. By the end of stage two however, Almirola’s No. 10 was able to work his way through traffic to finish 14th in stage two.
Sunday’s final stage proved to be one that saw Almirola consistently running inside the Top-10 with the Championship contenders. The No. 10 Smithfield driver would race in and around the top-five before the checkered flag waved. The veteran driver went on to earn his second sixth place finish in a row.
“What a season. What a day. We worked so hard to finish off the season strong and we ran where this 10 team was capable of running all year,” said Almirola post-race. “It was such a rollercoaster of a year. We had some really high highs and really low lows. We capped off the season with two sixth-place finishes when we’re running in the midst of the championship-contending playoff drivers. I can’t be prouder of that after the year we’ve had.”
Almirola’s season of ups and downs did see the driver capture his third NASCAR Cup Series win at Loudon in July. Aric led for 25 laps and held off a hard-charging Christopher Bell for the win. The race which was shortened by eight laps due to oncoming darkness also snapped a 98-race winless streak for the driver and locked him into the playoffs.
In 36 starts this season, Almirola captured one pole, one victory, two top-five and five top-10 finishes. He will finish the season 15th in the driver point standings.
Feature Photo Credit: Rachel Schuoler / Kickin’ The Tires