Almirola Scores First Win
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on July 6, 2014 | 2:58 P.M. EST
Almirola celebrates his first Cup Series win in his 125th start. (Photo: Getty Images)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Born on an Air Force base, raised two hours from Daytona International Speedway and driving a car made famous by the King with Air Force as the sponsor, there was no way Aric Almirola could lose a race riddled by rain, wracked by havoc and called early.
“I just took the (No.) 43 car to Victory Lane in Daytona,’’ Aric Almirola said in Victory Lane after winning the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400.
What a way to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race for the first time.
“I couldn't have dreamed of a better place to get my first win,’’ said the 30-year-old Almirola, born less than four months before team owner Richard Petty won his final Sprint Cup race in 1984.
“Of all the places I could pick to win, I would pick Daytona because I grew up two hours away,’’ said Almirola, who grew up in Tampa, Fla., “I've sat in these grandstands and watched the Daytona 500. I've watched the Firecracker 400s.’’
Sunday, the fans watched him.
Almirola took the lead from Kurt Busch a lap after what proved to the final restart - “I didn’t do my job as the leader,’’ Busch said.
Almirola, running in the high line, said he side-drafted Busch to keep them side-by-side, believing that the high line would prevail as it had throughout much of the race.
Once ahead, he relied on knowledge gleaned watching tape of Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. leading at restrictor-plate races and how they kept the field behind.
Almirola weaved back and forth keeping both lanes bottled as menacing storm clouds began to carry out the threat they promised with rain drops.
NASCAR sent the cars to pit road after the 112th of 160 laps and waited about an hour before showers soaked the track and called the race, giving Almirola the victory and put him in position to make the Chase as the season’s 11th different winner.
Brian Vickers finished second with Kurt Busch third, Casey Mears fourth and Austin Dillon finishing a career-best fifth in a race that had a 26-car crash and a 16-car crash. No one was injured in either incident.
NASCAR announced after the race that it found an issue with the track bar split on Busch’s car and was taking his car back to the R&D Center to further investigate.
Almirola’s triumph returned the No. 43 car to Victory Lane for the first time in a Cup race since 1999 when John Andretti won at Martinsville Speedway for Petty.
“Today is the future,’’ Petty said. “We’ve had so many disappointments and finally it rained on us, but it rained on us at the right time.’’
How Almirola won: He avoided the two big accidents and put himself in the right position with strong restarts and nifty mirror driving for when the rain came to score his first career Sprint Cup win
What else happened: Rain, rain and more rain in a race stopped three times before it was called and declared official after 112 of 160 laps.
Who else had a good day: Casey Mears finished a season-best fourth. HIs previous best was a 10th in the Daytona 500. ... Rookie Austin Dillon placed a career-best fifth, topping his ninth-place finish in the Daytona 500. ... Michael McDowell was a career-best seventh, scoring his second career top-10 finish. ... Alex Bowman finished a career-best 13th, topping his previous mark of 22nd.
Who had a bad day: So many did in a race with a 16-car crash and 26-car crash. ... Jimmie Johnson finished a season-worst 42nd after he was collected in the first multi-car crash. ... Tony Stewart was collected in the early crash and finished 40th, ending a streak of seven consecutive top-20 finishes. ... Pole-sitter David Gilliland also was a crash victim and placed 35th.
Quote of the day: “I was hoping they would wait. We got lights. It’s Daytona,’’ said Brian Vickers about NASCAR’s decision to call the race.
Other notables: Denny Hamlin finished sixth. He won at Talladega in the spring and was second in the Daytona 500. ... Kurt Busch placed third but remains winless in 55 Sprint Cup restrictor-plate races. ... Danica Patrick placed eighth, missing her career best by one spot.