Following the race at Dover this past weekend, there was massive disappointment from Aric Almirola after losing his grasp on the race win when it otherwise looked like he had it in the bag. Same song, different verse for Almirola this season.
The question to be asked here is, can his season be considered successful if he does not find victory lane or if he does not make the Round of 8?
Meanwhile, Kasey Kahne announced Tuesday morning that he would not be returning to NASCAR as he has not been medically cleared to return to the car following his severe dehydration at Darlington.
What will Kahne’s legacy be? Has he had a successful career or should it be viewed as a disappointment?
Q: What do you think of Aric Almirola’s season? Will it be considered a successful first season at SHR if he does not make it to the Round of 8 or if he doesn’t win a race? – Edward G. Milwaukee, WI
A: Almirola has had a successful yet disappointing season if that is even possible. This by far has been his best at the Cup level, but he is still missing a mark in the win column. There have been a handful of races where he has had the car to beat, but something went wrong in each case.
In his previous six years in the Cup Series, Almirola has had only one career win, which came in a rain-shortened race at Daytona in 2014. This season, he has been in contention more than he ever was previously. That is mainly because he is in much better equipment at Stewart-Haas Racing, but it also shows that Almirola is extremely capable of going to Victory Lane and making the most of his opportunities.
Think back to Daytona, his very first race with SHR and the first race of the season. If he does not get turned on the final lap by Austin Dillon, he would have more than likely been the Daytona 500 champion. If he does not have multiple pit road and tire issues at Chicagoland, he could have easily won there, too. If he did not have a bad pit stop at New Hampshire at the end of the race, he had that race won. And lastly, if the caution for Clint Bowyer did not happen this past weekend at Dover, he would have definitely won that race.
So certainly Almirola has the ability to win races but needs some help closing the deal. Last month, I picked Almirola as a dark horse for the title and I stick to that statement. This team never quits and always seems to find their way into the mix by the end of the race. He had his teammate, Kurt Busch, in hand but the caution for his other teammate, Bowyer, basically killed any chance he had at winning that race.
Almirola could realistically make it to Victory Lane in one of the two races remaining in this second round of the Playoffs. Almirola is a great restrictor plate racer with Talladega Superspeedway coming up this weekend and he has had excellent runs at Kansas in the past, including his second trip there in 2012 with the No. 43 team when he led 69 laps. Though he had one of the fastest cars in the field, several tire issues kept him from having a shot at the win.
After last week’s disappointment, the team will be hungry to get back into the top eight, which they have speed to do. While they have not been in this position before, based on how they have performed, there is no reason to believe that they cannot pull it off.
Q: What is Kasey Kahne’s legacy in the sport? Will he go down as a disappointment or a good driver who just had too much go on at the end of his career for him to succeed? Dylan P. Little Rock, AR
A: Kasey Kahne is a driver who had and still has an enormous amount of talent. It is unfortunate that he has to retire early due to his health. These circumstances are tough — Kahne is still a driver who can get the job done in the right situation.
Statistically, though, this was his worst season in his 15 as a Cup Series driver. Much of that has been because of the team he was with or because of his on-track health struggles. Nothing against Leavine Family Racing, but they are not the strongest team in the sport and, being one of the lower budgeted teams, did not allow Kahne to race at his full potential.
He did struggle at Hendrick Motorsports the last three seasons, minus his win at Indianapolis in 2017, but he can still be viewed as a great driver of the last 15 years. 18 career wins plus an All-Star win is not too shabby at this level of NASCAR. He had his best years when he drove that famous No. 9 car for Ray Evernham, but he did also have success with Red Bull Racing and his first three years at Hendrick.
Early in his career, he looked poised to eventually win a championship, but inconsistency was a killer at many points throughout his 15 years. There were many seasons he could have broken through for multiple wins, but other than a career-high six victories in 2006, he never won more than two in one year.
Kahne has won more races than many drivers in NASCAR could ever hope to do, and for that reason alone, he will go down as a great driver in the sport. Being top-50 all-time in wins is a great feat in this day and age. Three Coca-Cola 600s, a Brickyard win, five wins at Charlotte overall, a Bristol win, and many other big wins is still a memorable career. He is such a well-respected individual in the garage area, and all of his peers will miss racing with him and his presence in the series.
Is Kahne is a Hall-of-Famer, though? That may be a reach, but someday he may be in consideration for it, even though he doesn’t have a championship or a Daytona 500 win to his record. Overall, Kahne will be remembered as a great driver of this generation, and it’s a shame his career had to end the way it did.