By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
How can a driver fly under the radar in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season finale? Aric Almirola found out after multiple pit road penalties kept him from ever being a factor for the win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Almirola finished well outside the Top-20 after running just inside the top-10 throughout the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard. Although he avoided trouble, the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion was busted for speeding on pit road twice, as well as pitting before pit road was open. As a result, Almirola lost a lap and was mired deep in the field for much of the final stage of the race. He ultimately finished in 23rd, the first car one lap down.
The race was dominated by Almirola’s teammate Clint Bowyer as well as eventual third-place finisher Denny Hamlin. With both practice and qualifying rained out, there was never a chance for the No. 10 to gain track position. Almirola managed to finish seventh in Stage 1 but was outside the Top-10 at the end of Stage 2.
Almirola was optimistic about the speed that his Stewart-Haas Racing team has moving forward,
“I feel like we’ve got fast race cars and we’ve got a chance to go up there and compete to win races and go far into the Playoffs. Just thinking about today and another lost opportunity for us. We had a car capable of challenging to win and run up front and we just keep having things pop up. Today, we had a flat right-rear tire running third getting ready to pass Blaney for second, so we keep having things go wrong and it’s unfortunate.
“But one of these days our luck is going to change and hopefully it starts this week at Vegas and when our luck changes, we’re gonna put our Smithfield Ford Fusion in Victory Lane. We’ve been too fast and had too good of a car lately these last couple of months to not put it all together.”
After the events of Indianapolis, Almirola is reseeded 14thon the Playoff Grid. He now sits 49-points behind point leaders Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. Almirola is also four points behind Kyle Larson, who holds the final transfer spot for the Round of 12.
Looking ahead to next weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Almirola’s odds are better than some of his Playoff rivals. Among active drivers at Las Vegas, he has the 30th-best average finish. In the five most recent races at the Nevada track, Almirola is 19thin average finishes with a driver rating of 69.9.
In Almirola’s career at Las Vegas, he has just one top-10 finish, which came earlier this season.
Now Almirola, crew chief Johnny Klausmeier, and the entire No. 10 team will look to continue build on their success in the South Point 400 at Las Vegas as they hope to earn a victory and lock themselves into the Round of 12.