By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
Surviving a race of attrition just to crash coming to the checkered flag may be dramatic, but it does not win you the race. Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola did just that, finishing fifth. The Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was anything but calm for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competitor.
With just a handful of undamaged cars and several competitive repaired cars, Almirola was in the thick of the battle for the lead in the No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion. Even in a pack of just eight cars, the wild jockeying for position saw him move up and down the running order. As the field took the checkered flag, contact sent Almirola crashing into the outside wall.
In the final three lap run, Almirola worked with his Ford Performance teammates, Joey Logano, and eventual race winner Brad Keselowski. The Ford trio easily got Keselowski out front as the other competitors struggled to organize.
Almirola was happy to see Ford in victory lane,
“That was exciting. The whole race was exciting. Right there at the end I was really committed to making sure that we got a Blue Oval to Victory Lane. I was kind of watching the 2 and the 22 and we were all kind of trying to work together and my car had some damage on it from earlier in the race and I knew my car wasn’t probably good enough to lead, but if I could have done something right there at the end, we might have been able to pull one off.”
“But, nonetheless, we were able to get a Blue Oval to Victory Lane. It’s great for everybody at Ford and cool to see Brad win. He’s obviously been really successful here at Talladega, but I honestly thought for a minute there we might have a shot at it. Some things just didn’t work out going down the back straightaway.”
Overall, the race was more like a demolition derby. Almirola was one of many drivers caught in the various wreckage. However, his damage was minimal. Almirola spun in a wreck on the opening restart of the final stage of the race. The wreck put him in the rear of the field with about 30 laps to go, just before the chaos broke out. Somehow, Almirola avoided the major carnage until the final 100 feet.
Almirola was just happy to be back up front,
“I really just picked my way through wrecks, just kind of sensing that the energy of the pack was really high and knowing that all hell was gonna break loose at some point and just being prepared for that. We were fortunate to be able to miss some wrecks. Unfortunately, we got in a wreck right there coming to the checkered, but, all in all, it was a solid finish for us and I’m proud to run up front. That’s cool. I think we finished top-five in all three speedway races I ran. We had a fifth and two fourths, so I’m proud of that.”
This was Almirola’s third top-five and fourth top-10 of the 2017 season. This was also his first top-five since the horrific crash at Kansas Speedway earlier in the season. At Kansas in May, Almirola suffered a compression fracture in his vertebrae after slamming into Logano’s car. The accident sidelined the 33-year-old, Tampa, FL native for nine weeks.
Now Almirola will return to the scene of his violent wreck as the series heads back to Kansas Speedway next weekend for the Hollywood Casino 400.