Aric Almirola is not at all comfortable with a 94-point gap on the playoff cutline with five races to go.
“I’ve learned in this sport that you can never be too comfortable,” Almirola said Saturday at Watkins Glen. “Really, you can’t. There are so many people hovering right around that cutoff line and just outside the cutoff line that can win on any given weekend.”
Watkins Glen is the second of three road course races on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Almirola has never won on a road course whereas the driver sitting behind him on the playoff grid, Ryan Blaney, went to victory lane at the Roval last year.
At the bottom of the playoff grid, Almirola’s teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, Clint Bowyer, is a former Sonoma winner. Bowyer looks at road courses as opportunity races. Outside of the grid, Jimmie Johnson also has a road course win (Sonoma) and was running second at the Roval before spinning in the final chicane last year.
But aside from road courses, all the drivers that are not locked into the postseason but currently hold a playoff spot — William Byron being the exception — have at least one Cup Series win on their resume. Almirola is the highest driver on the playoff grid without a win this season.
“Everybody in this sport is too good and on any given weekend things could just line up for those guys. They’re talented enough, their teams are good enough, their cars have got decent speed to where they could pull off a win,” Almirola continued, “and the next thing you know instead of having 90-something points that we have, you’re looking at a 60- or 50-point gap, and if one more guy wins, you’re looking at a 20- or 30-point gap and that can go away in one race. So I’m always mindful of that and I’ve learned never to be too comfortable.”
Almirola was 19th in opening practice Saturday morning. In eight Watkins Glen starts, Almirola’s best finish is 16th (2015).