Almirola to make 400th Cup career start at Darlington

Embarking in his 11th and final full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series, Aric Almirola is primed to achieve a milestone start. By competing in this weekend’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway, the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang will achieve career start No. 400 in NASCAR’s premier series.

A native of Tampa, Florida, Almirola made his inaugural presence in the Cup Series at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March 2007. By then, he had made 10 career starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and 29 starts in the Truck Series as he was competing on a part-time schedule with Joe Gibbs Racing. Driving the No. 80 Chevrolet Monte Carlo for JGR, Almirola started 31st and finished 41st in his Cup debut after being involved in an early accident.

Later in the 2007 season, Almirola transitioned from Joe Gibbs Racing to Dale Earnhardt Inc. as he piloted the No. 01 Chevrolet in five of the remaining 13 Cup races to the schedule. His best result during his span was a 30th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway in October.

In 2008, Almirola served as a co-primary driver of the No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet Impala alongside NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin. His first start of the season occurred at Bristol Motor Speedway in March, where he achieved his first top-10 career finish in eighth place. He then made 11 additional starts throughout the 2008 Cup season, where he collected two 13th-place results (Bristol Motor Speedway in August and Talladega Superspeedway in October). He also led 53 laps at Martinsville Speedway in October before falling back to 20th place. When the final checkered flag of the 2008 season flew, Almirola capped off his part-time Cup campaign by finishing in 35th place in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November following an early spin.

Almirola commenced the 2009 Cup Series season as a full-time competitor in DEI’s No. 8 Chevrolet Impala. He finished 30th in the 51st running of the Daytona 500 after being involved in two separate incidents, but rallied three races later by finishing 21st at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March. Following the first seven races of the season, however, Almirola’s full-time Cup ride with DEI was cut short due to sponsorship issues. Returning to compete in four Xfinity and 16 Truck Series races for the remainder of the 2009 season, he also made an additional Cup start at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September, where he drove the No. 09 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet Impala to a 29th-place result.

Almirola entered the 2010 season with plans of competing with Phoenix Racing on a full-time basis in the Cup Series while also racing in the Camping World Truck Series for Billy Ballew Motorsports. His Cup plans with Phoenix Raceway, however, came to an early end after he failed to qualify in three of the first seven scheduled events and finished no higher than 39th, which was sat Bristol in March. He then set his main focus towards vying for the 2010 Truck title with Billy Ballew Motorsports, where he went on to win his first two Truck career races and finish in second place in the final standings. He also competed in eight Xfinity races with JR Motorsports. A month prior to the 2010 Cup season’s conclusion, however, Almirola drove the No. 9 Ford Fusion for Richard Petty Motorsports at Martinsville as an interim competitor in place of veteran Kasey Kahne, who left RPM for Red Bull Racing. Finishing 21st at Martinsville, Almirola ended up competing in the final four Cup races of the season with RPM. During this short span, he notched his first career top-five result in the Cup Series after finishing fourth in the season finale at Homestead in November.

After spending the 2011 season in the Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports, where he earned 18 top-10 results and finished in fourth place in the final standings, Almirola was signed by Richard Petty Motorsports to drive the iconic No. 43 Ford Fusion for the 2012 Cup season. Almirola started the season by finishing in 33rd place in the 54th running of the Daytona 500 after being involved in a late multi-car accident. He managed to finish 12th at Phoenix Raceway, but fell back to 24th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March. During the first nine events of the season, he had one top-10 result logged in, which was an eighth-place result at Martinsville in April. After finishing 12th at Talladega and 19th at Darlington Raceway in May, Almirola captured his first Cup career pole at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600. Despite finishing in 16th place in the Coke 600, Almirola rebounded the following week at Dover International Speedway by finishing in sixth place. From Pocono Raceway in June through Richmond Raceway in September, Almirola finished no higher than 17th place on the track, which were enough to prevent him from qualifying for the 2012 Cup Playoffs. At Kansas Speedway in October, he led 69 laps but was involved in three separate incidents that dropped him to 29th place in the final running order. He rallied during the following event at Martinsville by finishing fourth. He then capped off the season with a seventh-place result at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November and a 20th-place result in the final standings. 

Remaining at Richard Petty Motorsports for the 2013 Cup season, Almirola finished 13th in the 55th running of the Daytona 500 and 15th during the following race at Phoenix. Following the first 10 Cup races of the season, he was coming off four consecutive top-10 results and was in eighth place in the regular-season standings. The early consistency for Almirola and the No. 43 team, however, did not last for the remainder of the 26-race regular-season stretch as he achieved only one top-five result, which was a season-best fifth place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July, and failed to make the Playoffs. He went on to conclude the 2013 season in 18th place in the final standings along with six top-10 results and a career-best average result of 18.8. Following the 2013 season, Almirola surpassed 100 career starts in NASCAR’s premier series. 

After inking a three-year extension to remain at Richard Petty Motorsports, Almirola commenced the 2014 season with a 39th-place result in the Daytona 500 after being involved in a late multi-car accident. Three races later, he captured his first top-three result in the Cup circuit after finishing in third place at Bristol Motor Speedway behind Roush Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 

When NASCAR returned to Daytona in July, which marked the halfway point of the season, Almirola had achieved one top-five result and three top-10 results, but came into Daytona with an opportunity to grab a victory and race his way into the 2014 Cup Playoffs. During the race, Almirola dodged two multi-car accidents and outlasted the field, including late challenges from Brian Vickers, Kurt Busch and Casey Mears, to retain the lead when the race was red-flagged and deemed official on Lap 112 of 160 due to heavy precipitation. The call handed Almirola his first Cup career victory in his 125th series start as he snapped five-year winless drought for Richard Petty Motorsports. Almirola’s first Cup victory marked the first win for the No. 43 since 1999, which was last made by the late John Andretti at Martinsville Speedway. It also occurred 30 years to the day where Richard Petty recorded his unprecedented 200th and final NASCAR win at Daytona. With his victory, Almirola clinched a spot for the 2014 Cup Playoffs.

Following the breakthrough victory at Daytona, Almirola recorded two top-10 results for the remaining eight regular-season races before entering the Playoffs as one of 16 competitors vying for the 2014 Cup championship. He, however, was one of four competitors who was eliminated from title contention following the Round of 16 despite finishing as high as sixth place at New Hampshire in September. Despite his early exit from title contention, Almirola went on to finish the season in a career-best 16th place in the final standings and with a career-high seven top-10 results.

Following a breakthrough 2014 season, Almirola started the 2015 season with a 15th-place result in the 57th running of the Daytona 500 followed by an 11th-place run at Atlanta. Throughout the 26-race regular-season stretch, he achieved two top-five results and 14 top-15 results. During the regular-season finale at Richmond in September, Almirola, who was within striking distance of the lead, recorded a strong fourth-place result, which would mark his season-best result, but he missed the Playoffs by 17 points. He went on to notch one additional top-five run and four top-10 results for the remaining 10 Playoff races before finishing in 17th place, best of the non-Playoff competitors, in the final standings. In light of missing the Playoffs, he achieved a career-best average-finishing result of 17.9, compared to his average result of 21.4 in 2014 when he won a race and made the Playoffs.

Remaining at Richard Petty Motorsports for a fifth consecutive season, Almirola’s 2016 season started with a 12th-place result in the 58th running of the Daytona 500. He then finished in 15th place during the following race at Atlanta despite being involved in a four-car wreck during an overtime shootout to the finish. Compared to his previous two seasons, the 2016 season was a disappointing season for Almirola, who achieved only one top-10 result, which was a season-best eighth-place result at Talladega in October, and an average result of 23.3 before falling back to 26th place in the final standings. Following the 2016 season, Almirola surpassed 200 career starts in the Cup Series.

Returning for a sixth full-time Cup season with RPM in 2017, Almirola commenced the season on a high note by finishing in fourth place in the 59th running of the Daytona 500. During the first 10 scheduled races, he achieved three top-10 results, including another fourth-place result at Talladega despite being penalized 35 points for a post-race infraction. 

Then during the following race at Kansas Speedway in May, Almirola was involved in a late horrific accident, where he collided into Joey Logano and Danica Patrick’s cars at full speed in Turn 1 as both competitors wrecked in front of Almirola seconds prior to his involvement. The impact launched the back of Almirola’s car off the ground amid a shower of flames and sparks before his No. 43 Ford came to rest against the outside wall. Following the incident, Almirola had to be extricated from his car and placed on a stretcher, where he was airlifted to the University of Kansas Hospital. It was later determined that he had suffered a compression fracture of his T5 vertebrae. While Almirola spent time recovering from his injuries, he was absent for eight races, including the All-Star Open/Race weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. During his absence, Regan Smith, Bubba Wallace and Billy Johnson each took turns piloting the No. 43 Ford Fusion.

In July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Almirola, who received medical clearance to return to race, finished in 24th place. Given seven races to try to win and position himself into the top-30 in the standings to make the Playoffs through an injury waiver, he finished no higher than 12th place and was unable to compete for the 2017 title. Nonetheless, he collected three top-10 results, including a fifth-place result at Talladega in October, as he finished in 29th place in the final standings. He also recorded an average-finishing result of 18.8, which matched his result from 2013.

A week and a half prior to the 2017 Cup season’s conclusion in November, Almirola announced a new partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing to drive the No. 10 Ford team for the 2018 Cup Series season, where he replaced Danica Patrick. Three months later, Almirola made his first Cup start with SHR in the 60th running of the Daytona 500. During the event, he was leading on the final lap when Austin Dillon made contact and turned Almirola into the outside wall in Turn 3, which spoiled Almirola’s opportunity in winning the Daytona 500 for the first time as he ended up in 11th place and with a wrecked race car. 

During the first 16 Cup races of the new season, Almirola recorded seven top-10 results and 14 top-15 results. By then, he was ranked in 10th place in the regular-season standings. He went on to record three additional top-10 results and secure a spot in the 2018 Playoffs based on points and following a strong consistent regular-season stretch despite having no victories under his belt. 

Returning to the Playoffs for a second time and following a three-year absence, Almirola commenced his title run in September by finishing sixth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and fifth at Richmond Raceway. Despite finishing in 19th place at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course in September, he transferred to the Playoff’s Round of 12 in a three-way tie-breaker that included Kyle Larson and saw seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson eliminated from title contention.

After leading 64 laps and finishing 13th at Dover in October due to being involved in a late multi-car incident, Almirola, who was still within reach of transferring from the Round of 12 to 8, came into the following race at Talladega Superspeedway with an opportunity to fulfill his first victory as a Stewart-Haas Racing competitor. After spending the majority of the race running towards the front with his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, he capitalized on a late two-lap restart and with teammate Kurt Busch running out of fuel on the final lap to hold off teammate Clint Bowyer entering the tri-oval and capture his first elusive victory of the season along with his second Cup career victory. The victory earned Almirola and his No. 10 SHR Ford team a one-way ticket into the Playoff’s Round of 8.

After finishing 10th the following week at Kansas, Almirola finished 11th, eighth and fourth respectively in the Round of 8. Despite the results, he failed to advance to the Championship 4 round at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he capped off the season in ninth place on the track. While he did not emerge as a Cup champion, the 2018 season stands as Almirola’s productive season to date that includes a win, a career-high four top-five result, a career-high 17 top-10 results, a career-high 181 laps led, a career-best average-finishing result of 12.8 and a career-best points result of fifth place.

With the 2018 season in the record books, Almirola entered the 2019 Cup season with high aspirations of repeating his on-track success from the previous season, beginning with the 61st running of the Daytona 500. His season, however, started off on a low note when he was involved in a late multi-car accident and was scored in 29th place. He rebounded the following six weeks by finishing in the top 10 in all of them. Throughout the 26-race regular-season stretch, Almirola and his No. 10 SHR team achieved 10 top-10 results, as Almirola qualified for his third Cup Playoffs. After finishing 13th, 16th and 14th respectively during the Round of 16, however, he was eliminated from title contention. With his 2019 title hopes coming to an early end, he went on to capture two top-five results, including a season-best second place behind teammate Kevin Harvick at Texas Motor Speedway in November, and conclude the season in 14th place in the final standings. Overall, he recorded a pole, three top-five results and 12 top-10 results despite logging in zero victories. In addition, Almirola surpassed 300 Cup career starts.

The 2020 Cup Series season, which marked Almirola’s third full-time campaign with Stewart-Haas Racing, started off with the Floridian wrecking out of the season-opening Daytona 500. Two weeks later, he finished eighth at Auto Club Speedway, which he backed up with another eighth-place result at Phoenix in March. When NASCAR returned to on-track competition for a Darlington Raceway doubleheader feature in May amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Almirola finished 12th and seventh respectively. From a pair of Charlotte Motor Speedway events in May to Martinsville Speedway in June, he finished no higher than 15th. Then, beginning at Homestead in June through New Hampshire in July, he recorded nine consecutive finishes inside the top five or top 10. During this streak, he also started on pole position three times through a random draw. To go along with two additional top-10 results during the final six regular-season events, Almirola clinched a spot to the 2020 Playoffs for the fourth time in his career and third in a row in recent years. Three consecutive top-10 results during the Round of 16 transferred the driver of the No. 10 SHR Ford into the Round of 12, but his title hopes came to an end following finishes of 17th, 37th and 16th respectively. Despite settling in 15th place in the final standings, he achieved a career-high six top-five results and 18 top-10 results. His total laps led of 305 throughout the season was also his personal best. 

The 2021 Cup season marked a difficult start for Almirola, who won the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona in February but ended up in 34th place in the 63rd running of the Daytona 500 after being involved in an early multi-car wreck. Through the first 16 scheduled events, his best result was sixth at Richmond in April while he finished outside of the top 20 10 times. He then rallied at Nashville Superspeedway in June, where he started on pole and finished fourth, but finished no higher than 14th place during the following four events.

Then at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Almirola persevered through his difficult start to 2021 by leading twice for 25 laps, including the final 20, to win over Christopher Bell and claim his third NASCAR Cup career victory. The victory, which was Almirola’s first since winning at Talladega in 2018, sent the driver and his No. 10 SHR team into the 2021 Cup Playoffs. During the Playoff’s Round of 16, however, he missed the cutline to the Round of 12 by two points despite logging in three consecutive top-20 results. Capping off the season with back-to-back sixth-place results on the track, Almirola capped off his 10th full-time season in the Cup Series in 15th place in the final standings.

In January 2022, Almirola announced his intentions to retire from full-time NASCAR competition at the conclusion of the season. He commenced his final full-time season with a fifth-place run during the 64th running of the Daytona 500 in February followed by back-to-back top-10 results before finishing no higher than eighth place during the next eight events. He is currently ranked in 11th place in the drivers’ standings.

Through 399 previous Cup starts, Almirola has achieved three victories, three poles, 27 top-five results, 88 top-10 results, 899 laps led and an average-finishing result of 19.0.

Almirola is set to make his 400th Cup Series career start in the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, May 8, with the event’s coverage to occur at 3:30 p.m. ET on FS1.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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