By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
A miscommunication ultimately ended up as a net gain for Aric Almirola in the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Almirola went to a back-up car between the two races at the 2.0-mile Michigan track. The back-up No. 10 Smithfield Hometown Originals Ford Mustang has a different list of codewords inside the car. As crew chief Mike Bugarewicz called for a ‘hot dog,’ Almirola darted back on track from seventh in line while under caution on lap 106. Bugarewicz had called for a two-tire stop, Almirola guide instructed him to stay out.
Now in the lead, Almirola chose the outside on the ensuing restart. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver held off his teammate Kevin Harvick for several laps before falling back. Having used up his front tires, and short on fuel, Almirola settled in, needing another pit stop.
Luckily for the Tampa, FL native, a caution for debris waved with 19 laps to go. Almirola was one of a few that pitted under the caution. He restarted 22nd on fresh tires and quickly swept through the field. However, there was not enough time and Almirola took the checkered flag in sixth.
“Today is how we’re supposed to run,” explained Almirola. “We drove from 32nd to the top-10 and had a great Smithfield Hometown Heroes Ford Mustang. We were able to rally there at the end from 22nd to sixth in 12 laps. It felt like we were going to get to third and just ran out of laps. Really proud of Mike Bugarewicz and everyone on our team.
“Yesterday was a tough day and a character-building day. The team worked their guts out last night and we had a great day with the result of it. We’re back on track with our top-five and top-10 capability. Congrats to Kevin Harvick on back-to-back wins here and keeping the heritage trophy in Ford’s backyard.”
Almirola was scheduled to start in fifth after the 20-car invert from the FireKeepers Casino 400. However, his team opted to go to a back-up car. NASCAR approved the team’s request to go to a back-up car and Almirola was one of 13 drivers to drop to the rear prior to the green flag.
It wasn’t until the second stage that the 36-year-old broke into the top-10. Almirola finished the second stage in eighth.
The sixth-place finish is the 13th top-10 for Almirola this season and the 74th of his NASCAR Cup Series career. Only once has he had more top-10 finishes in a single season, 17 in 2018.
Almirola remained eighth in the points standings, 247 behind leader and race winner Harvick. He is 132-points ahead of the cutoff for the playoffs currently held by William Byron.
Next for Almirola and the Cup Series is a historic first trip to the Daytona International Speedway Road Course for the Go Bowling 235.