Aric Almirola emerges with win as Stewart-Haas Racing drivers dominate Talladega
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
Aric Almirola entered Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway having endured more than his share of heartbreaking disappointments this season. At the wheel of the No. 10 Ford at Stewart-Haas, he finally got a good break, and with it snapped a string of 149 winless races dating back to his first Cup win, in July 2014 at Daytona.
Almirola, who came close to winning at Daytona, New Hampshire and last week at Dover, before having his hopes dashed in the closing laps, appeared destined to finish behind one of his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates at Talladega.
The four SHR drivers — Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Almirola — dominated the race from the start, often occupying the top four spots.
But when a wreck involving Alex Bowman, William Byron and J.J. Yeley with two laps remaining sent the race into overtime, fuel mileage became a turning point in the race.
Harvick, who had led 46 laps and was set to restart on the front row, ran dry coming to the green flag for the final restart. And Busch, who had led 108 circuits, saw his engine sputter due to low fuel coming off Turn Four with the lead on the final lap. That opened the door for Almirola, who surged forward and took the win over Bowyer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.
The 193rd and final lap was the only one Almirola led all day, and it delivered SHR its 11th win of the season, with Harvick accounting for seven, Bowyer two and one apiece for Busch and Almirola. It also marked the third straight race that a driver won for the second time in Cup, with Ryan Blaney winning on the Roval at Charlotte and Chase Elliott claiming victory at Dover.
“This is so awesome! It’s Talladega!” Almirola said as he climbed from his No. 10 Ford.
“Four or five times this year I feel like we’ve had a shot to win and haven’t been able to seal the deal. To come here, a place that I love — I won an Xfinity race here last year — I just love racing at Talladega.”
Almirola also thanked his team and the employees at Roush Yates Racing, where engines are prepared for the Ford teams.
“There are 400 employees back at Stewart-Haas Racing. There are close to 200 employees at Roush Yates’ engine shop. Thank you,” he said. “This was an incredible race for us. We [SHR drivers] were so committed to each other and so organized, and nobody in the field could touch us. It was us against the field. What an impressive run. I’m just proud to be the one on top today.”
The finishing order also scrambled the playoff standings heading into Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway, where four drivers will be eliminated from championship contention as the playoff field is reduced to eight.
The four drivers currently below the cutline are Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman.
Sunday’s race didn’t produce a “Big One” multi-car crash that often occurs at Talladega, but other incidents and fuel issues affected the playoff standings, as six playoff drivers, including former champions Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, finished outside the top 25.