By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Aric Almirola came agonizingly close to winning the Daytona 500 last season, falling a mile short after getting spun from the lead by Austin Dillon in Turn 3 on the final lap.
A year later, the thought of redeeming himself with a trip to Victory Lane is in the forefront of his mind heading into Sunday’s running of the Great American Race.
“For me, last year being a mile away from winning the Daytona 500, that stands out for me,” Almirola said. “Being that close. I can literally feel it and see it and smell it and taste it. Everything you can imagine like it was there. It was right at my fingertips.
“It was tough to swallow and defeat is never easy, especially in that situation right there at the last minute in the closing mile of the race. Certainly, that was a tough one to swallow but I feel like everything in life happens for a reason and I feel like last year, if we would have won right out of the gate, things might have went differently for our race team.
“That was a hard one but I really feel like it made our team grow together and kind of created a bond amongst me and my teammates and the guys on my team, my crew guys. We kind of rallied around each other and picked each other up to hold our heads high and go on to the next race and carry on, knowing that we kind of left Daytona knowing that our competitors are going to have to deal with us each and every weekend, not just here in Daytona.”
In addition to having last year’s defeat to fuel his desire to win a Daytona 500 with his Stewart-Haas Racing team, Almirola also has the home state edge when it comes to Daytona, having grown up in Tampa, Florida – just a couple of hours from the high banks at the World Center of Racing.
Almirola is no slouch when it comes to restrictor plate racing either, as he scored his first career win in the July race at Daytona in 2014 when he was driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. Last fall, he followed that win up with a victory at Talladega – his first in a SHR entry.
“I come to this race track with a really positive outlook,” Almirola said. “Growing up in Tampa and coming over here to race, I have always enjoyed driving through the tunnel and being here and being at Daytona.
“This is a dream come true for me. Being here, I am just always excited and fired up. I feel like that positive attitude really kind of carries over through the weekend to whatever race car I am in. I know a lot of the guys when they show up here kind of dread it and they hate restrictor plate racing and all those things but I embrace it. I like it.”