NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Aric Almirola on Pocono: ‘I Finally Figured This Place Out’

When you have the car, the results can be seamless.

That’s the motto Aric Almirola followed while walking on pit road after Sunday’s (June 3) Pocono 400 from Pocono Raceway. Just minutes earlier, the Floridian scored his sixth top-10 finish of 2018 with Stewart-Haas Racing, now only one shy of tying his career best in that category.

A seventh-place finish started from behind when Almirola struggled to qualify his No. 10 Ford 34th on the grid. But over 400 miles, the right adjustments were made and the improvement was showcased on the racetrack.

“Starting 34th set us way behind,” Almirola said. “Johnny [Klausmeier, crew chief] gave me an incredible racecar. I’m really proud of everybody. Another top 10.”

This top 10 is particularly meaningful in terms of track history. The 34-year-old not only scored his first top 10 at Pocono but it was his first finish higher than 18th in 12 starts.

Why the sudden surge? His new race team has something to do with that, said Almirola.

“I finally figured this place out,” he said. “A lot of it is the car but I changed some of the things I did and made it a lot better, too. I have a lot more confidence coming back here in July.”

The finish could have been even higher. Almirola chose to stay out on old tires while Kyle Busch and others chose otherwise with 20 laps remaining. This gave Almirola track position, allowing him to restart fifth. However, a late-race mistake cost the No. 10 a better result.

“I messed up on that last restart. I didn’t get a good enough drive off turn 1,” he said. “Honestly, I lost a few spots there to Brad [Keselowski] and [Ryan] Blaney. I was actually better than Blaney but I just ran out of time.”

Through 14 races, Almirola is on track for career bests in average finish (12.1) and championship points (11th). Additionally, he has only one finish outside the top 20, standing as one of the sport’s most consistent drivers in 2018. Entering the summer stretch, Almirola’s confidence has grown along with those performances.

“It’s been a good year, we just have to keep scoring points,” he said. “This weekend was a big learning experience for me.”

HENDERSON: ALMIROLA, MENARD BIG SURPRISES AT POCONO

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