In a sport easily perceived as individual, teamwork for more than 500 miles around Talladega Superspeedway was the crucial factor in Aric Almirola’s win Sunday in the 1000Bulbs.com 500.
He and his Stewart-Haas racing teammates — pole winner Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer — started on the front two rows as the fastest qualifying cars, and they worked in unison throughout the whole 193-lap race around NASCAR’s longest track. With five laps remaining, they had pulled away to 20 car lengths ahead of everyone else.
A caution flag with three laps left threatened their likelihood of winning, and when then-leader Busch ran out of fuel on the final lap in overtime, Almirola took control to get his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of the season.
“That is so awesome! I’ve been so close so many times this year. Four or five times this year I thought we had a shot to win but haven’t been able to seal the deal,” an ecstatic Almirola said upon climbing out of his No. 10 Ford.
“I came in with the mindset that we were going to give ’em hell, we were going to go for the win, and if we wrecked, we wrecked.”
Almirola snapped a 149-race winless streak to earn his second career victory. His last win was at Daytona International Speedway in July 2014. The 34-year-old driver joined SHR this year, taking over the No. 10 from Danica Patrick.
Bowyer finished second to increase his chance of playoff advancement, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Denny Hamlin and playoff driver Joey Logano. AJ Allmendinger, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Paul Menard and Regan Smith rounded out the top 10.
“[The SHR cars] were so committed to each other, and they did a great job,” Logano said. “They probably would have finished 1, 2, 3, 4 if they didn’t run out of gas.”
Even off the restarts, the on-track work by SHR’s four Ford drivers — all of whom are still in the playoffs — was often precisely calculated and choreographed, as they shifted themselves together and formed single-file lines on the inside of the 2.66-mile track.
“This was an incredible race,” Almirola said. “The four of us were so organized. It was us against the field. What an incredible run by Stewart-Haas Racing. We finally did it!”
They controlled the pace with their incomparable speed, fending off Team Penske’s traditionally dominant drivers Brad Keselowski and Logano, who have won six of the last nine Talladega races.
“That was the easiest Talladega I’ve ever had in my life, and it was because of the speed we had in our race cars,” Bowyer said afterward.
“What happened today was just cooperation. We all talked about it in the meeting and everything else. Like I said in the meeting, I think we owe it to each other to pit with one another, to try to help one another.”
Their teamwork led to dominance, made them impossible to catch — must less pass — and allowed Almirola to take the checkered flag when Busch couldn’t hang on.
Busch finished 14th, while Harvick, who was forced to pit seconds before overtime started because he ran out of gas, came home 28th — directly behind fellow playoff drivers Keselowski (27th) and Kyle Busch (26th).
“I really enjoyed leading the race, working with my teammates,” Kurt Busch said. “I’m really happy a Stewart-Haas car won, but the four of us — I’ve never seen so much synergy.”
Almirola joins Chase Elliott, who won last weekend at Dover International Speedway, as the only drivers locked into the next playoff round. As for the other playoff drivers, Kyle Larson finished in 11th, Martin Truex Jr. 23rd, Ryan Blaney 29th, Elliott 31st and Alex Bowman 33rd.