By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
Martinsville, Va. – A runner-up finish in the penultimate race of one’s full-time NASCAR Cup Series career can take an emotional toll on driver. Finishing runner-up after losing the laps with under 25 laps to go with family in attendance just increased the emotions for Aric Almirola.
One day before the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Almirola announced that this would be his final season as a full-time Cup Series driver. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is in his 17th year of competition in NASCAR. In the twilight of his full-time career as a driver, Almirola had a lot of family on hand to cheer him on.
In the final 168-lap green flag run at ‘The Paperclip,’ Almirola ran down Chase Elliott for the lead. The No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang took the top spot with 89 laps to go. Taking fuel-only on the final stop gave Almirola the track position he needed to be able to challenge for the lead in the first place. At first it appeared that the Tampa, FL native would cruise to a victory, his lead peaked at about three seconds. Then, he got stuck in heavy lapped traffic.
“Yeah, (lapped traffic) was an issue,” Almirola said. “It’s so hard to pass. I was trying to be patient with it. I was trying to be patient with Reddick and those guys because I didn’t want to burn my stuff up and, I don’t know. I honestly don’t think there’s anything I could do different. His car was just better than mine there at the end on the long run. His rear tires just kind of stayed with him better than mine.”
Once he was mired in the slower traffic, like Denny Hamlin earlier in the race, Ryan Blaney chased Almirola down. The two Ford Performance drivers had a brief battle for the lead. The NASCAR Playoffs contender, on fresher tires, took the spot with 23 laps to go. Almirola cruised to a second-place finish, about one second behind Blaney and three ahead of third-place Denny Hamlin.
“Honestly, I’m just sad,” Almirola admitted. “We had a good car. We just fought track position. Qualifying kind of set us behind and then when we finally cycled to the front and got track position, we had a great racecar. Man, I was being so patient and taking care of my tires. I wasn’t slipping a tire. I wasn’t doing anything to hurt my tires and they just started to give up on me there towards the end, and the 12, his car would hold on a little longer.
“I’m not sure if he was on four tires or two tires. We were on two tires with some pretty old lefts, so I don’t know if that was the difference or not. I’m just really proud and really proud of this team. I wanted that one so bad. I got my family here. My grandparents here that helped me get my start in racing. I wanted so bad to celebrate with my family in victory lane.”
The second-place finish was Almirola’s second top-five finish this season. It was also his 30th career top-five finish in the Cup Series. For Almirola it was his best finish since his win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2021.
The final race for the 39-year-old as a full-time Cup driver, the NASCAR Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway, is scheduled for Saturday, November 5, at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC. The race at Phoenix will also be broadcast on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.