By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In his final appearance as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver, Aric Almirola scored a top-five finish in the Daytona 500.
In a natural green-white-checkered finish, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver restarted fifth. Working with fellow Ford Performance driver, Michael McDowell, Almirola searched for a way around the leaders. On the final lap he pulled alongside of teammate Chase Briscoe. Also attempting to win ‘The Great American Race,’ Briscoe hung on the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang’s right rear quarter panel.
That broke the momentum just enough to stall Almirola’s run. At the same time, McDowell lost contact with the 37-year-old. Now with zero momentum, Almirola cruised in line to a fifth-place finish. He narrowly avoided a wreck involving Ryan Blaney, McDowell, and others while taking the checkered flag.
“I wish it was a few spots better,” admitted Almirola. “I’ll want this one back for sure. Was in a great position. Thought I had a great opportunity to make a run. I just didn’t quite clear the 14 getting into (Turn) 3 and he hung on my quarter panel. I lost McDowell, my help in the middle of (Turns) 3 and 4. That was really the difference.
“If I could have cleared the 14 and kept McDowell as my helper, I really feel that I would have had the momentum to get by those guys and get to victory lane. Man, that was close.”
The fifth-place finish was Almirola’s second time coming close to a win in the Daytona 500 on the final lap. In 2018, he was leading when contact from Austin Dillon sent the Tampa, FL native into the outside wall. Almirola ended up 11th at Daytona International Speedway that day.
The NASCAR Cup Series veteran felt the echoes of that race with his fifth-place finish.
“Similar, except in 2018 I was in the infield care center, it feels better to lose and to still finish top-five,” explained Almirola. “It still stinks to lose. I wish I was over in victory lane to be honest. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to win one of these Cup races, especially the Daytona 500. I just came up short. There’s so many moving parts, you can’t block every run. I felt close, felt like I made a lot of the right moves. I don’t have any regrets.”
The fifth-place finish was the 27th top-five finish in Almirola’s career. It came in the points-race debut for NASCAR’s Gen 7 car. It was also his 85th top-10 finish in 389 career starts.
“We still put on a great race, no matter what car they give us, still proud of that,” stated Almirola.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by NKP / NKP Photo.