By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Chaos ensued in the opening laps of Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, where it collected multiple cars but only one wasn’t able to continue and that’s Aric Almirola’s No. 10 Shazam! Ford Mustang, who’s top-10 streak at six ended and pending on post-race inspection, he’ll take 37th place.
Almirola started in sixth and right out of the gate, moving up to third after the first lap. Then coming into Turn 2, Almirola was running the high line and targeted on passing outside pole sitter William Byron. However, Byron got loose and slammed into Almirola, ruining his momentum and smacked the Turn 2 wall.
The contact caused an entire accordion effect as the field had to check up and coming out of Turn 4, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. plowed into the back of Kyle Busch, sending the seven-time Bristol winner around as cars scattered to avoid hitting him. All appeared to be fine until rookie Ryan Preece’s left side hit Busch’s rear bumper but none significant that would’ve warranted a DNF. Also involved was Preece’s rookie competitor Daniel Hemric also had damage in the fiasco, but only slight front bumper damage.
All drivers made repairs and continued to race, but for Almirola, who exited the pits with the jack stand still attached, brought his car to the garage area after the damage was deemed significant, which meant his day was over after only completing three laps. This was as a result of Almirola’s steering being terminally damage, and for the first time since the Daytona 500 in February, he won’t be running at the finish and held Byron accountable due to the lack of Bristol experience when they made contact on the second lap.
“Of course I’m mad, but it’s not gonna do any good to yell and scream at you guys. He’s still out there racing. I’m not,” said Almirola.
“Honestly, I think some of it is inexperience on William’s part. I think he started to panic because he started to lose spots on the start because he spun his tires on the start, and probably a little bit over his head with the tire pressures and everything not coming up and he just lost it. He got loose underneath me, lost it and ran right into the side of us and wrecked us. Part of that comes with experience, I guess, but, either way, it doesn’t change the outcome for us today.”
Another factor Almirola pointed out was the addition of PJ1, which has been one of the major themes at Bristol this week, and it has caused the track becoming slick on the bottom groove, but still felt it’s more of Byron’s wrongdoing than the PJ1.
“That PJ1 on the bottom groove is a little bit slick to get going, but he didn’t even make an attempt to make it to the PJ1,” Almirola explained. “He tried to run above it, which that area is really slick as well, so I think he probably just made a bad decision and unfortunately I was the victim of his mistake.”