Almirola seeks re­demp­tion af­ter late 2018 Day­tona wreck

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Kelly Cran­dall RACER | USA TO­DAY Net­work

Aric Almirola will be look­ing for re­demp­tion, and per­haps to re­turn the fa­vor, next week­end in the Day­tona 500.

Almirola got the short end of the stick last sea­son when Austin Dil­lon and the No. 3 re­turned to vic­tory lane in the pres­ti­gious event. Lead­ing on the fi­nal lap, Almirola at­tempted to block Dil­lon’s run go­ing into Turn 3 only to end up wrecked. Dil­lon won and Almirola, while heart­bro­ken, un­der­stood what hap­pened.

“I wrecked a mile away from winning the Day­tona 500,” Almirola said. “I don’t nec­es­sar­ily fault him for what he did but, given the same op­por­tu­nity this year, you can bet your bot­tom dol­lar I would re­turn the fa­vor. You’re go­ing to do what­ever it takes.”

Look­ing back on how the last few laps of the 2018 race un­folded, Almirola said he felt “so con­fi­dent.”

Fo­cused on get­ting through the gears smoothly when he restarted sec­ond on the over­time restart, Almirola cleared Denny Ham­lin for the race lead on the back­stretch.

“I looked in my mir­ror and saw ev­ery­one racing side by side and fig­ured that I was in con­trol of the race and, if I made the right move, I was go­ing to be the win­ner of the Day­tona 500,” he re­called. “About half­way down the back straight­away, they were com­ing with a run, and I pulled over to block it.

“In your head, you know it’s the Day­tona 500, and you’re a mile and a half away from winning, so you’re go­ing to do ev­ery­thing you know to try and win that race.

“I pulled over to block and put a pretty ag­gres­sive block on the No. 3. I knew that if I blocked high, he was go­ing to go low. As soon as I blocked high, I knew I was go­ing to have to im­me­di­ately block low. When I blocked low, he turned against my back bumper and into the out­side wall.”

Almirola was listed with an 11th­place fin­ish. In his eight pre­vi­ous Day­tona 500 starts, he has a best fin­ish of fourth in 2017.

How­ever, he does know what winning at Day­tona feels like, hav­ing earned his first Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries win in the 2014 sum­mer race.

Almirola is also the most re­cent win­ner on a re­stric­tor-plate track. In last sea­son’s play­offs, he won at Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way, with a last-lap pass.

“Re­stric­tor-plate racing is about draft­ing and team­work,” he said. “Two cars go faster than one, and four cars go faster than two. The pack as a whole goes faster than a cou­ple of cars. The more team­work, the faster that train will go.

“That win at Tal­ladega last year was clutch, and it taught us a lot about re­stric­tor-plate racing as a team.”

MIKE DINOVO/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Aric Almirola says of late blocks, “You can bet your bot­tom dol­lar I would re­turn the fa­vor.”

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