DOVER, Del. — Aric Almirola isn’t wondering what he did that is keeping the racing gods from allowing him to snap a lengthy winless streak, but he is wondering what it will take to get to victory lane.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver was leading on the final lap of the 2018 Daytona 500 before a block of Austin Dillon sent Almirola to the wall, he led 42 laps at New Hampshire until a slow pit stop relegated him to third and then he was cruising toward the win Sunday at Dover International Speedway until a Clint Bowyer accident with seven laps remaining resulted in a wild finish, with Almirola bouncing off the wall, triggering a crash and finishing 13th.
Almirola, whose sole Cup victory came in July 2014 at Daytona, saw his winless streak extend to 149 races.
« I want to go to victory lane — that’s what I get paid to do, to try to win races, » Almirola said after he led 64 of the 71 laps prior to the Bowyer accident. « I’m frustrated that’s not us over there [in victory lane]. That’s a hard one to swallow. … We’ve just battled some sort of demon that we can’t get past to get to victory lane.
« I don’t know what it is. »
Almirola pitted for tires with six laps remaining and restarted sixth, behind three drivers (eventual race-winner Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr.) who didn’t pit and two drivers (Denny Hamlin and Alex Bowman) who took two tires. In less than a lap, Almirola was bouncing off the wall and clipping Keselowski to trigger a five-car wreck.
« I could have been conservative and probably could have finished third or fourth, » Almirola said. « It’s so hard to pass. On that restart, I tried to at least go to where they weren’t on the top and the 11 [of Hamlin] moved up to block and I got really tight and bounced off the fence and got into Brad and tore up a bunch of race cars.
« I hate that for everybody involved and killed our day, too. »
Almirola teammate Kevin Harvick had led 251 laps at Dover before a pit stop where the valve stem was knocked off the tire forced him to pit under green, leaving Almirola as the car to beat.
« I’m frustrated, mad, angry. … They don’t give trophies for woulda, shoulda, couldas, » Almirola said. « We should have won. »
The 34-year-old Almirola tried to put things in perspective when asked if he felt he done anything to deserve such bad luck.
« I am so grateful for this opportunity, » Almirola said. « I’m a really lucky guy. I could be complaining about running 25th. Instead, I’m complaining about having cars that are capable of winning and not going to victory lane.
« There’s worse problems to have. »