How many times can a win slip away from Aric Almirola?
A similar question was posed on the No. 10 radio Sunday afternoon at Dover when the caution flag flew with eight laps left in the Gander Outdoors 400. Almirola was leading at the time. But a round of pit stops later and a tight car coming off Turn 2 off a restart led to a collision with Brad Keselowski, triggered a multi-car wreck and took him out of contention.
Almirola finished 13th after leading 64 laps. He had taken the lead from Brad Keselowski on a restart with 52 laps to go.
“I know better to not get too far ahead of myself and just race the race and take it as it comes,” Almirola said. “We were obviously in really good position there to win the race. I was really taking it easy, I know Kurt [Busch] started making a little ground there, I was just taking it easy there on my tires making sure I had something to race with if he got any closer. But I felt really good about the position we were in coming to 10 to go leading with about half a straightaway to Kurt and just circumstances didn’t go our way.
“Just frustrated. I wanted to go to victory lane. I thought for sure we were going to go to victory lane here. This is a really great track for me and obviously all of our Stewart-Haas Racing cars were really fast, so everybody back at the shop is doing a great job giving us fast cars to show up at the track. When Kevin had his misfortune [with pit stop issues in the final stage], I thought that put it in our lap to be the car to beat, and just didn’t work out. Just frustrated.
“I hate that we tore up a bunch of cars on the back straightaway; I got tight there off [Turn] 2 and didn’t really want to check up. I was going for it. You don’t get an opportunity to win races every day and so I was going for it, and I got just a little too tight on the exit and got in the fence and then came down and got Brad and collected a lot of cars. So, sorry about that, but damn, I thought we were going to win today.”
It has been a season of some notable what-if moments for Almirola.
Almirola was wrecked from the lead in the season-opening Daytona 500 in February. In Chicago, Almirola led a race-high 70 laps and won the first stage, but two loose wheels took him out of contention.
A few weeks later in New Hampshire, Almirola was leading when Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer brought out the final caution. The team’s slow stop on the subsequent trip down pit road cost Almirola the lead, and then a poor restart ended his shot at the win.
Bowyer was the reason for the second-to-last caution on Sunday with eight laps to go, which again brought the field down pit road. Almirola’s team took four tires while Denny Hamlin and Alex Bowman beat him off pit road with two tires. Eventual winner Chase Elliott, Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. stayed out.
The damage from the collision was enough to send Almirola down pit road.
“We’ve had so many opportunities and been so close and had the car to win and been in position and I don’t know, it just seems to not come through,” Almirola said. “I don’t know. I’m frustrated and mad and angry. I don’t know. I could have been conservative and probably finish third or fourth like Kurt, it’s just track position is so tough and it’s so hard to pass here.
“On that restart I tried to at least go where they weren’t to the top and the 11 [Hamlin] moved up to kind of block me and I just got really tight off of two and I bounced off the fence and got into Brad and tore up a lot of racecars along the back straightaway. I hate that for everybody that was involved, but it killed our day too. I don’t know. I feel like we should be over there in victory lane celebrating, but we’re not.”