If consistency was the metric to determine the NASCAR champion, Aric Almirola would have been firmly in contention last season. During the middle part of the season, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver set career highs in top-five finishes, top-ten finishes, and laps led with a stretch of five consecutive top-five finishes. However, a string of poor finishes and some bad luck at Talladega doomed Almirola in the Round of 12. He was unable to push for a championship.
The Question now is, Can Almirola Turn Consistency into Contention?
One of the defining moments of the 36-year old’s career is in 2018 after winning at Talladega to lock a spot in the Round of 8 in his first year with SHR. Earlier in that season, however, in the Daytona 500, his result didn’t end so sweetly. After entering turn three of the final lap with the lead, Almirola was turned by Austin Dillon, who was the eventual race winner. Almirola was also caught up in wrecks in both the 2019 and 2020 Daytona 500s. On the positive side, he continues to take an aggressive mentality into plate races.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that I would rather be a part of that opportunity to win and not win versus not really even being involved in the [race] and get out of there with a seventh-place finish,” Almirola said. “That’s really my mentality and the way I look at it is, to me, it means more to be running up front and have my sponsors on TV and…be challenging to win the race.”
Daytona is a Good Start
Both of Almirola’s two career victories, including his win at Daytona in 2014 with Richard Petty Motorsports, are on superspeedways. Even without a win in the past couple of seasons, Almirola tends to run near the front on the high banks. He credits that success to his aforementioned mentality, as well as the chemistry of his race team.
“[Superspeedway racing] takes a lot of different things. It takes a fast race car. It takes a great spotter. Me, in the seat, it takes a lot of concentration and focus, but, really just forethought, you’re always thinking about your next move,” Almirola said. “It really is a high-speed chess match and you’re constantly weighing risk versus reward and, fortunately, for me I’ve more often than not found myself in position to win these superspeedway races when it comes down to the end of the race.”
Almirola’s season is off to a solid start. He’s put up the third-fastest qualifying time and wound up winning the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel 1. Almirola will start third in Sunday’s Daytona 500 as one of the frontrunners to take home the Harley J. Earl trophy.