DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Aric Almirola finally won a NASCAR XFINITY Series race “without an asterisk” on Friday night at Daytona International Speedway.
In a finish that was nearly impossible to call when caution lights illuminated around the Daytona International Speedway, Almirola was fractions ahead of Justin Allgaier coming off turn four, after a multi-car crash going down the backstretch on the final lap of an overtime attempt ended the race just short of the start-finish line.
A five-minute video review, after NASCAR called both drivers to the entrance of pit road to await further word, ultimately gave the trophy to the Florida native when all was said and done.
“I knew it was close. I knew it was really close,” Almirola said. “I had a good push from the 18 (David Ragan) and I tried to side-draft the 7 (Allgaier) as best I could to stay in front of him. I knew they wrecked behind us, and I’m like, ‘When are they gonna throw the caution?’ because I knew I was in front. That was such a crazy finish.”
Officially, the win is Almirola’s second career XFINITY win – breaking a 72 race, nine-year drought – as well as the second for team owner Fred Biagi, following a 2005 triumph by Mike Wallace at Daytona.
However, Almirola’s first-career XFINITY win was credited to him in 2007 at Milwaukee, after he was pulled from the seat of a Joe Gibbs Racing entry while leading and replaced by Denny Hamlin at lap 59 of the 200-lap event, with Hamlin going on to cross the line first and Almirola receiving credit for the victory.
This time though, there was no question as to who was in the driver’s seat at the checkered flag, as well as who “truly earned” the win and the trophy.
“I’m so glad to be back in Victory Lane here at Daytona,” said Almirola, who won the July Cup race at Daytona in 2014. “This is such a special place for me. I won my first Cup race here two years ago, and for me, this is my first XFINITY win. I know I have a win, but there’s always been an asterisk next to it and I’ve been dying to get back to victory lane in an XFINITY car.”
“I hated the fact that I got credit for (the win at Milwaukee). When they called me the winner, I didn’t want any of the credit. (Crew chief) Dave Rogers actually got the trophy. They tried to give me the trophy, but I didn’t want it. I didn’t think I deserved to win the race, because I wasn’t in the car when the race was over, but tonight I was. Tonight we went to Victory Lane, and I’m here, and I was in the car – so this is my first XFINITY win.”
Six cautions in the first 67 laps plagued the first two-thirds of the event, including the dreaded ‘Big One’ on lap 15 that took out or heavily damaged 14 of the 40 cars that started the race.
However, the intensity level picked up on a restart with 29 laps to go, when Elliott Sadler got a huge push from Almirola to move to the lead after the first half of the race was largely dominated by the No. 22 Team Penske Ford of Joey Logano.
Sadler held the point until losing his drafting help with 20 to go, when Logano jumped up to the outside lane from deeper in the top five and steam-rolled around Sadler for the lead, bringing Chase Elliott with him as the two’s rivalry from February (when Elliott won the XFINITY event over Logano) began to heat up once again.
Logano’s lead would only last a lap; however, as he tried to throw the block on a hard-charging Elliott the next time by and got shuffled back to ninth as the February winner took command of the field over teammate Sadler.