Aric Almirola finally feels like legitimate Xfinity Series winner
Aric Almirola celebrates in victory lane at Daytona Imternational Speedway after winning the Firecracker 250 on July 1, 2016 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
Aric Almirola became a winner in the series now known as the NASCAR Xfinity Series back in 2007 at the Milwaukee (Wis.) Mile, but he never really considered him a legitimate winner in the series, because while he started the Milwaukee race in the car that eventually won the race, he gave up the driver’s seat to Denny Hamlin, and Hamlin, not Almirola, drove the car to the checkered flag and victory lane. But Almirola finally won again in the Xfinity Series on Friday night, driving the Biagi-DenBeste No. 98 Ford from start to finish in the Subway Firecracker 250 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
“It is a huge night for me to get back to victory lane in the Xfinity Series. I didn’t feel like I truly won in the Xfinity Series before, but tonight was my night. Now, I can truly say I have truly won in every series in NASCAR,” Almirola, also a winning driver in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck and Xfinity series, said.
When the checkered flag waved, though, a few minutes went by before Almirola was declared the winner. After a yellow flag with four laps remaining, the race was extended to 103 laps for a green-white-checker finish that wound up really being a green-white-yellow-checker finish when David Ragan crashed and collected several other cars on the final lap.
When the final yellow flag, the eighth of the race, slowed the race field down on the final lap and, ultimately, ended the race, Almirola and Justin Allgaier were racing side-by-side for the lead. After studying video footage, NASCAR officials declared Almirola the winner and Allgaier the second-place finisher.
“I guess it just depends on what replay you look at. We definitely had the momentum down the back, there,” Allgaier said. “When you lose them by that little bit, it definitely is frustrating. When you can be disappointed with second, though, it’s still a good day.”
Ragan, filling in for Matt Tifft in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, took the white flag as the race leader, but soon after giving up the lead to Almirola, he hit the wall and set-off the race-ending incident.
Ryan Sieg matched his career-best finish of third. Joey Logano and Brendan Gaughan rounded out the top-five.
“We had such a fast Discount Tire Ford, and it just goes to show with how many laps we led,” Logano said. “Toward the end of the race, we just made a bad call. Went to the top to block, and the bottom was coming with momentum and I didn’t get there in time and we got shuffled down the middle and lost 10 or 15 spots.”
Austin Dillon looked to be the class of the field in the opening laps, leading 10 of the first 15 circuits before his car became one of the most severely damaged in a 14-car crash on lap 15. As a result of the incident, he spent significant time in the garage.
Joe Gibbs Raccing teammates Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones also were involved, and the teammates were involved in additional incidents later, with Jones spinning on lap 24 and Suarez hitting the wall on lap 49.
“Pretty much everything started the first 15 laps before the competition caution; everyone was racing crazy in the back straightaway,” Suarez said. A bunch of cars wrecked. My car wasn’t right after that.”
Suarez ended up 32nd at the finish. Jones, though, was able to recovered to run in the top-five late in the race and finish 10th.
After the lap-15 multi-car wreck, Logano took over and led a race-high 46 laps, nearly half the race. But Ragan, who ran inside the top-five throughout the race, took the lead inside the final 20 laps and held the position until he was overtaken by Almirola on the final lap.
Finishing sixth through ninth were Ryan Reed, Jeff Green, Spencer Gallagher and Chase Elliott.