Loose Wheels Spoil Aric Almirola’s Outstanding Run

Aric Almirola, the driver of the #10 Smithfield Ford, leads a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on July 1, 2018, in Joliet, Illinois. Photo – Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

For the first half of Sunday’s Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, Aric Almirola looked every bit like a potential race winner.

The driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion took the lead near the end of the first 80-lap stage and held on for the stage win, the first of his career. On laps 87 and 88, Almirola swapped the lead with Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick, and he held it through a cycle of green-flag pit stops late in the stage.

But a pit stop under caution on lap 129 proved Almirola’s undoing. After passing Ryan Blaney for the top spot on lap 135, Almirola returned to pit road on lap 142 when the vibration from a loose wheel got progressively worse.

The unplanned pit stop dropped Almirola to 26th, one lap down, and though he regained the lead lap as the beneficiary under caution at the end of Stage 2, a second loose wheel on lap 220 doomed Almirola to a 25th-place finish.

“Our car was super-fast, especially out in clean air,” Almirola said. “It was incredibly fast. We just have to execute. We have to put a whole race together. That’s the difference between being good and being great. We are capable of winning. We showed it today. We have speed. We’re bringing incredible race cars to the race track and we just have to put a whole day together.

“We have to be flawless on pit road, and I have to do my part, too. Today we just had two loose wheels on two separate instances, and you can’t have that, especially in races like this that go green forever. I’m really frustrated, but the good news is that our cars are fast. We can build on that. We’re going to win a race. I guarantee you we are going to win a race. We have to be perfect to do it, though.”