Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson had the same issue Sunday afternoon: Atlanta traffic.
Almirola led the first 36 laps of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 before a speeding penalty put him at the rear of the field. Busted on Lap 88, Almirola would finish 14th in Stage 2 and would bounce around the top 15 before climbing to an eighth-place finish.
However, the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford wasn’t as strong as it had been out front, and Almirola was never a factor for the victory.
“Clean air was a big deal,” Almirola said. “Early in the race our car was really fast out front, and when we got behind in second it still felt like we were a second- or third-place car. Then I made a terrible mistake getting onto pit road and was three-tenths of mile an hour too fast, and that is too fast. I had to go to the tail, and then my goodness was it a challenge.
“Traffic — cars make so much downforce, and we are all going so fast that it is really hard to make passes until late, late, late in the run. So, that is my fault. We had a really fast Smithfield Ford Mustang, and it was driver error that made the mistake and that hurt the rest of our day.”
Larson was penalized much later in the race. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the most laps Sunday afternoon, 142 of 325, and won Stage 1. But he, too, was called for speeding on Lap 224, which took him from the lead to the rear.
Larson admitted he just made a mistake on pit road. After restarting 21st, Larson was 12th at the checkered flag.
“The car handled really well until we got put in traffic there, but even the 18 [Kyle Busch] seemed to struggle trying to get back to the front,” said Larson. “Yeah, dirty air was much worse than I thought it was. I spent most of the day up front, so once I got back there, it was pretty crazy.”