By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
From starting 40th to narrowly dodging cars, Aric Almirola had his work cut out in Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
The No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion wound up in seventh after some considered him a superspeedway favorite to win after coming half a lap shy of winning in the Daytona 500.
“We had a great Smithfield Ford Fusion the whole weekend. We put ourselves behind in qualifying but that was a nice way to battle back with a solid day for us,” said Almirola. “I thought we had a car capable of getting up there and racing for the win but we got shuffled there on the restarts. Coming from the back to get a top-10 is a good day.”
His topsy turvy weekend began during Saturday’s qualifying session as Almirola’s rear end broke, causing a flat tire and bottoming out his car.
Near the exit of Turn 1, Almirola’s car spun, but kept his car off the wall, but his session ended with a time of 54.604 seconds, the slowest among 40 drivers.
An additional blemish ensued after qualifying when his team made unapproved adjustments and listed among the six drivers who started at the rear of the field.
Almirola’s race had a more uplifting outcome, quickly moving towards the front early on.
Then on Lap 72, Erik Jones lost control and collected a handful of cars, including Trevor Bayne and Martin Truex, Jr.
Clearing the smoke and debris was Almirola, escaping the carnage by inches and sustained no damage.
For the remainder of the race, handling became his detriment and wasn’t able to lead a lap.
As the Ford train held on to the low lane with less than 15 laps to go, Almirola tried making the outside work with some help by Daniel Suarez.
The plan gradually worked, but little impact came out of it and failed to crack the top-5 and help his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick.
The 2017 Talladega winner in the Xfinity Series crossed the line in seventh, making it three out-of-four Stewart-Haas cars finishing inside the top-10.
Almirola described the race being diffirent than in previous races due to handling, and competing with his fellow “Blue Oval” competitors.
“It was an unusual Talladega. The cars are a big handful. They keep getting them lower and lower and lower and we are going faster and faster and faster but the cars just drive worse,” said Almirola. “It is a lot harder to run in a big pack three and four-wide all day long. You definitely saw it kind of file out and pit strategy and a lot of that stuff. The one thing that I do know is that the Fords were all really fast. All of us were really fast.”
Talladega marked his third straight top-10 finish at the circuit, and the fourth this season.
After 10 races, Almirola sits 11th in points, his best start since 2013 when he was eighth.