Over the past month, Aric Almirola has proven he can wheel a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was no different.
Almirola began the race from 13th, and led a trio of SHR cars as Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer began the event just behind in 14th and 15th. Right from the green flag, the No. 10 car moved up the scoring pylon.
By the end of the stage one, Almirola was 10th, picking up a stage point. In the second stage, the No. 10 car rocketed up the chart to fifth, earning an additional six stage points. However, once the final half of the race came around, Almirola’s machine was on a different level.
“I should be capable to run top five,” Almirola said following the race. “I’m competitive, and we had the best racecar without a doubt in my mind and we didn’t win. It’s disappointing, for sure. We’ve got to clean some things up. You lose some before you win some, but I feel like we’ve lost some and it’s time to stop it.”
Ultimately, Almirola went up and passed SHR teammate Kurt Busch for the lead late in the going. The No. 10 car pulled away from the No. 41, and was in position to snap a 138-race winless streak. Even through a cycle of pit stops where Harvick short pitted, Almirola was able to get back by the No. 4 car. Then a caution came out with 46 laps to go.
Almirola took four tires, though the Johnny Klausmeier led crew had a hiccup on the right front, allowing Kyle Busch and Harvick to get ahead on the restart. That’s where Almirola spun his tires, fading to eighth, but racing his back way up to a season-high third.
“All of these guys on this 10 team brought me an incredible racecar,” he said. “We didn’t execute. We didn’t get to Victory Lane… I had the fastest racecar and got beat. We came down pit road leading and had a second slower pit stop than the [No.] 18, they beat us off pit road. W
“We lost control of the race on that restart, and I spun my tires on the restart. Just didn’t get the job done. Frustrated for sure, because I thought we were going to Victory Lane today, so that’s disappointing.”
Though it was Almirola’s career-high ninth top-10 result of the season, it was just his first top five. However, over the past four races he’s led 112 laps, which is more than he’s led in any of his previous 10 seasons at the Cup level.
“I want to win. For the last six years of my career, losing was normal, and for the first time in my career I’ve had a lot of opportunities to win,” he said. “At Daytona [500, was leading on the final lap before getting turned], it was the first race and everything was new and fresh, still drew a lot of positive out of that and there is still a lot of positive to draw out of this.
“As the [No.] 10 team individually, we’re peaking at the right time. We’re getting close to the start of the playoffs and you’ve seen the speed we’ve had at Chicago and again here.”
Through 20 races, Almirola sits 12th on the playoff grid, 150 markers ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is the first driver on the outside looking in. Essentially, the No 10 team has a four-race cushion with six races remaining in the regular season.
Instead of worrying about making the playoffs, Almirola believes his challenge is to run with the “Big Three” of Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., something he’s done over the past month.
“Everyone keeps talking about the Big Three, but I feel like we were stomping them pretty good today and that’s why they are so good,” Almirola mentioned. “They execute all race long. Unfortunately, we didn’t do it today. We had the best car, we had the speed to beat them and we didn’t do it.”