Aric Almirola is hoping to earn his third career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win in Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 (2 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). See, last year, Almirola took his No. 10 Ford to victory lane in the Fall playoff race at the Talladega Superspeedway. It was big for a number of the reasons.
First, it stamped his name into the Round of 8 of the 2018 playoffs. Secondly, it was his first trip to victory lane in NASCAR’s premiere series in more than four years.
“The win at Talladega was clutch,” Almirola said of last year’s victory. “Going through the season and really being consistent from summer to the playoffs was great. We didn’t really have any devastating races throughout those months and never were a threat to really win races.
“Then, all of the sudden when the playoffs started, our performance really ramped up. We went into the first few races with chances to win, leading laps and running up front. Even right before that, you look at races like New Hampshire, where we led a lot of laps and felt like we had the potential to win. We kind of pointed our way into the playoffs.”
Now, Almirola returns in a different role. While he doesn’t boast a four year winless drought, he also hasn’t won a race since this one last year. Also, he was eliminated from the playoffs in the first round, so a win on Sunday would mean something entirely different than last year.
That’s okay though as the Florida native is feeling good about his chances of landing in victory lane for a second straight year.
“Talladega is definitely the most confident track on the circuit for me,” Almriola said. “Anything can happen there. If we race and have the same luck we have in the past, hopefully we’ll be picking 10 winners come Monday. It would mean so much to our guys who have worked hard all season, as well. We’re not able to battle for a championship, but I know there are still a lot of people rooting for us and I hope to make them proud this weekend.”
In Almirola’s recent start at Talladega last April, he started on the front row and survived the “Big One” to lead 27 laps and finish ninth. It was his seventh top-10 in the first 10 races of the season.
In his last five starts at the 2.66-mile Talladega oval, he’s earned three top-five finishes and six top-10s in addition to last October’s win. In his 19 Cup Series starts there, an accident ended his day prematurely just once. In the typically accident-mired event, he’s led a total of 43 laps. Almirola’s first career Cup Series victory was captured in 2014 at Talladega’s sister track, Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
The Tampa native has also found his way to victory lane at the Alabama track in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. In 2017, he led 13 laps before going on to capture the victory while piloting the No. 98 Ford for Biagi-DenBeste Racing.
Ford had shown strength at superspeedways with 18 wins in the last 35 Daytona and Talladega events combined. In the Cup Series, Ford has captured 10 wins in the last 14 Talladega races.
So, what makes Almirola so good on these tracks?
“I always had to go to these races and be aggressive because, back then, they were our only realistic options to win races. It was the only way I could make it into the playoffs and we were able to do that in 2014. They’ve been good to me. I’ve always gone into those races with that mindset.”