DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Aric Almirola was a half a lap away from winning the Daytona 500 until an accident took him out of the race.
Almirola had the top spot in Sunday’s overtime finish as the field roared into the third turn on the final lap. But contact from Austin Dillon as the pack was racing for position sent Almirola into the wall and ended the day in his first start for Stewart-Haas Racing.
“It’s the biggest race of the year and it’s a career-changing race, so we were just racing really aggressively,” Almirola said. “I put every move I knew to try and stay in the lead and, unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to hold on. He got to my back bumper and was pushing and just hooked me. My heart is broken, but the beauty is we’ll go to Atlanta and we’ve got an incredible race team here at Stewart-Haas Racing and we’ll have another shot next week.”
While the contact from Dillon sent Almirola into the wall and out of the race. He did not feel the aggressiveness was over the line.
“He’s not driving too aggressively, he’s trying to win the Daytona 500 just like I was,” Almirola said. “I saw him come with the momentum and I pulled up to block and did exactly what I needed to do to try to win the Daytona 500. I wasn’t gonna just let him have it. I wasn’t gonna just stay on the bottom and let him rail the outside, so I blocked and he got to my bumper and pushed and I thought I was still gonna be OK and somehow I got hooked.
“If that was lap five, I probably wouldn’t have pulled that block, but it was the last lap of the Daytona 500 and I was doing everything I could to try and win. I wanted to win the Daytona 500.”
Almirola wound up finishing 11th.