Almirola cashes in for thrilling Xfinity victory at Martinsville

Seventeen years after being credited a NASCAR Xfinity Series victory driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, Aric Almirola earned an Xfinity victory with JGR in the DUDE Wipes 250 at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday, April 6, following a dramatic, overtime shootout to the finish. 

The 40-year-old Almirola from Tampa, Florida, led six times for a race-high 148 of 251 over-scheduled laps in an event where he qualified in sixth place. He quickly made his name known at the front by assuming the lead for the first time on Lap 28, where he would win the first stage period on Lap 50.

Amid a series of war of attrition and on-track chaotic moments, including a series of late-race restarts, Almirola, who spent the majority of the event battling with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates towards the front, capitalized on an overtime shootout period to muscle away from Sam Mayer and retain the lead on the final lap amid a race-ending caution to achieve both his first race-winning checkered flag and first Dash 4 Cash bonus of the 2024 season. 

On-track qualifying on Friday, April 5 determined the starting lineup with Brandon Jones initially recording his first Xfinity pole position of the 2024 season with a pole-winning lap at 96.15 mph in 19.694 seconds. Jones, however, was forced to start at the rear of the field due to an unapproved adjustment to change brake rotors on his pole-winning car along with teammates Allgaier and Sammy Smith. Akinori Ogata, Leland Honeyman, Ryan Ellis and Chandler Smith also dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments to their respective entries. 

As a result, Cole Custer, who clocked in the second-fastest qualifying lap at 95.845 mph in 19.757 seconds, led the field to the green flag as he started alongside Sheldon Creed, who posted the third-fastest qualifying lap at 95.840 mph in 19.758 seconds, on the front row. 

When the green flag waved and the race started, Custer and Creed battled for the lead through the first two turns until Custer muscled his No. 00 Haas Ford Mustang ahead on the outside lane through the backstretch. Custer would then move in front of Creed’s front nose entering Turns 3 and 4 and proceed to lead the first lap. 

Through the second to fifth lap mark, Custer retained the lead by within three-tenths of a second over Creed while Jeb Burton trailed in third place ahead of Aric Almirola and Alfredo Alfredo, all of whom were racing in the top five. Behind, Sam Mayer occupied sixth place ahead of rookie Jesse Love, Parker Retzlaff, Ryan Sieg and AJ Allmendinger while Austin Hill was scored in 11th ahead of newcomer Carson Kvapil, Matt DiBenedetto, Taylor Gray and rookie Shane van Gisbergen. 

On the ninth lap, the event’s first caution period flew after Sammy Smith, who attempted to throw a dive-bomb move underneath Garrett Smithley and Dexter Bean, made contact with both entering Turns 3 and 4 resulting in Bean spinning. 

When the event restarted under green on Lap 14, Custer managed to fend off Creed for a full lap to retain the lead. As Custer muscled ahead during the Lap 15 mark, Almirola challenged teammate Creed for the runner-up spot while Burton and Mayer remained within close distance. 

Through the first 20 scheduled laps, Custer was leading by half a second over Almirola followed by Creed, Burton and Mayer while Alfredo, Retzlaff, Love, Allmendinger and Ryan Sieg were scored in the top 10 ahead of Hill, Kvapil, Jeremy Clements, Corey Heim and Riley Herbst. Meanwhile, Brandon Jones was running in 23rd place behind teammate Sammy Smith and Hailie Deegan while Gray, DiBenedetto, van Gisbergen, Parker Kligerman and Josh Williams were running in the top 20. In addition, Chandler Smith, winner of last weekend’s Xfinity event at Richmond Raceway, was mired back in 25th. 

Seven laps later, Almirola challenged and overtook Custer for the lead through the first two turns. Almirola would proceed to stretch his advantage to half a second by the Lap 30 mark while teammate Creed tried to close in on Custer for the runner-up spot.  

On Lap 35, the event’s second caution period flew after Brennan Poole tapped and sent Hailie Deegan for a spin in Turn 2, where she was then hit by Kyle Weatherman and sustained damage to her No. 15 AM Racing entry. During the caution period, some including the JR Motorsports’ competitors Kvapil, Sammy Smith, Justin Allgaier and Brandon Jones pitted as part of a strategic plan while the rest led by Almirola remained on the track. 

During the following restart on Lap 42, Almirola muscled his No. 20 He Gets Us Toyota Supra ahead to retain the lead on the inside lane ahead of teammate Creed and Custer. Almirola would continue to lead through the Lap 50 mark as Creed and Custer followed suit in second and third, respectively. Behind, Mayer occupied fourth place while Allmendinger trailed in fifth as he was ahead of Alfredo, Burton, Ryan Sieg, Retzlaff, Hill, Love, Herbst and Gray. 

When the first stage period concluded on Lap 60, Almirola fended off a late challenge and bump from teammate Creed to capture his third Xfinity stage victory of the 2024 season. Creed settled in second followed by Custer, Mayer and Allmendinger while Alfredo, Ryan Sieg, Hill, Burton and Retzlaff were scored in the top 10. 

Under the stage break, all five JR Motorsports competitors led by Sam Mayer and including teammates Sammy Smith, Allgaier, Jones and Kvapil, remained on the track while the rest led by Almirola pitted for service. Amid the pit stops, Herbst was penalized for an uncontrolled tire violation while Kligerman was also penalized for speeding on pit road. 

The second stage period started on Lap 70 as teammates Mayer and Sammy Smith occupied the front row. At the start, however, the caution quickly returned after Jones, who struggled to launch from the second row on the outside lane, ignited a stack-up that resulted in Logan Bearden, Deegan, Allmendinger, Hill, Heim, Retzlaff, Leland Honeyman, Herbst, Burton, Bean, Kyle Sieg and Alfredo all wrecking and sustaining damage to their respective entries entering the first turn. The incident was enough to send the event in a red flag period for more than nine minutes. 

When the red flag lifted and the field resumed under a cautious pace, the competitors who wrecked, including Herbst, pitted while the rest led by Sammy Smith remained on the track. By then, top names that included Retzlaff, Heim, Hill and Allmendinger were ruled out of the event. 

As the event restarted under green on Lap 80, Sammy Smith and Mayer battled for the lead through the first two turns until Smith muscled ahead with the lead through the backstretch while Almirola fanned out to three lanes in his drive back to the front. As Smith retained the lead during the following lap ahead of teammate Mayer, Creed was in third ahead of a tight side-by-side battle between Allgaier and Custer while Kvapil and Almirola followed suit. 

Following another caution period that occurred on Lap 84 after Kligerman spun his No. 48 Spiked Lite Coolers Chevrolet Camaro from 29th place in Turn 2 due to cutting a left-front tire, the start of the following restart period on Lap 90 featured a brief side-by-side battle between teammates Sammy Smith and Mayer through the first two turns. With Smith muscling ahead through the backstretch and entering Turns 3 and 4, Mayer then got loose after he hit the curbs exiting Turn 4, which allowed teammate Allgaier and Creed to move into second and third while Mayer, who got his car stuck on the outside lane but resumed under full pace, dropped to 10th place. 

At the Lap 100 mark, Sammy Smith continued to lead by a second in his No. 8 TMC Transportation Chevrolet Camaro over teammates Allgaier and Kvapil as Almirola and Custer trailed in the top five. Behind, Creed occupied sixth place ahead of Jones, Burton, Ryan Sieg and Josh Williams while Mayer, Chandler Smith, Love, Alfredo and Taylor Gray were running in the top 15 ahead of a battle between Herbst and van Gisbergen. 

Ten laps later, Sammy Smith retained the lead by a tenth of a second over teammate Allgaier, who was using the front bumper to pressure his JR Motorsports teammate for the top spot through the turns, while teammate Kvapil trailed by within eight-tenths of a second. Another lap, however, Allgaier managed to draw even with Smith on the inside lane through the frontstretch until he muscled his No. 7 Jarrett Logistics Chevrolet Camaro ahead with the lead through the backstretch. With Allgaier leading, Smith retained second while Almirola challenged Kvapil for third place. 

When the second stage period concluded on Lap 120, Allgaier, who stretched his advantage, captured his first Xfinity stage victory of the 2024 season. Almirola settled in second followed by Sammy Smith, Kvapil and Custer while Creed, Jones, Chandler Smith, Burton and Ryan Sieg were scored in the top 10. By then, 29 of 38 starters were scored on the lead lap. 

During the stage break, the lead lap field led by Allgaier pitted for service. Following the pit stops, Almirola assumed the lead after he exited pit road first ahead of Sammy Smith while Creed, Custer, Chandler Smith, Allgaier, Jones, Herbst, Ryan Sieg and van Gisbergen followed suit in the top 10. Amid the pit stops, Allgaier lost 14 spots due to an issue while having his left-rear tire changed while Taylor Gray was penalized for his pit crew jumping over the pit wall too early. 

With 120 laps remaining, the final stage commenced as Almirola and Sammy Smith occupied the front row. At the start, Almirola muscled ahead from Smith amid contact to retain the lead while teammate Creed moved into the runner-up spot through Turns 3 and 4. Teammate Chandler Smith would grab third place from Smith during the following lap, thus placing all three Joe Gibbs Racing entries in the top three spots, while Custer followed suit and overtook Smith for fourth place. 

Not long after, the battle for the lead between Almirola and Creed ignited as the latter gave the former a bump through Turns 3 and 4, but Almirola retained the top spot during the proceeding laps. Behind, Custer and Jones were racing in the top five while Allgaier, Herbst, Smith, Kvapil and Ryan Sieg occupied the top 10, with a series of bumps and jostles for spots ensuing in the middle of the pack.  

With 110 laps remaining, Almirola stretched his advantage to more than a second over teammate Creed as Custer intimidated Chandler Smith for third place. Almirola would stabilize his advantage to more than a second over teammate Chandler Smith as teammate Creed dropped to third with 100 laps remaining. 

Down to the final 85 laps of the event, Almirola continued to lead by nearly a second over teammate Chandler Smith while third-place/teammate Creed trailed by two seconds ahead of Custer, Allgaier and Kvapil.  

Four laps later, the caution flew due to a metal debris reported in Turn 3. During the caution period, nearly the entire lead lap field led by Almirola returned to pit road for service while Kligerman, who did not have any fresh tires in his pit box, remained on the track. Following the pit stops, Almirola exited first ahead of teammate Creed, Custer and teammate Chandler Smith while Allgaier, Sammy Smith and Herbst followed suit. 

When the event restarted under green with 73 laps remaining, Kligerman and Almirola battled for the lead through the first two turns until Almirola managed to muscle ahead through the backstretch and move in front of Kligerman, who made contact with Custer through Turns 3 and 4. The contact allowed Creed and Custer to move ahead in second and third, with Chandler Smith following suit in fourth. As Kligerman began to lose ground on old tires while also trapped on the outside lane, Chandler Smith made contact with teammate Creed amid a tight three-wide battle during the following lap in Turn 3, though Creed managed to bump and fend off Smith for second place while Custer and Sammy Smith bumped and battled for fourth place. Amid the bumps and late battles, Almirola stretched his advantage to eight-tenths of a second with 70 laps remaining.  

Down to the final 60 laps of the event, Almirola was leading by seven-tenths of a second over teammate Creed while teammate Chandler Smith trailed by nearly a second while Sammy Smith and Custer were racing in the top five. Behind, Herbst occupied sixth place ahead of Mayer, Kvapil, Love and Allgaier while Taylor Gray, Ryan Sieg, Alfredo, Jones and Burton were scored in the top 15. 

Following another caution period with 55 laps remaining after Garrett Smithley spun in Turn 1, the start of the following restart period with 46 laps remaining featured a tight side-by-side battle between teammates Almirola and Chandler Smith, which ensued for the next four laps until Almirola managed to clear Smith and move in front of him to have both lanes to his control with the lead. Smith then got loose as he tried to re-challenge Almirola for the lead, which allowed teammate Creed to battle and overtake Smith for the runner-up spot while Custer and Sammy Smith followed suit in the top five. With a series of bumps and late battles igniting in the middle of the field, Almirola slightly stretched his lead to four-tenths of a second with less than 40 laps remaining.  

With 30 laps remaining, Almirola was leading by six-tenths of a second over teammate Creed while teammate Chandler Smith trailed by less than a second as he was trying to mount a charge on Creed for the runner-up spot. By then, Mayer carved his way back to fourth as he was ahead of Custer while Sammy Smith, Allgaier, Herbst, Alfredo and Kvapil were running in the top 10. Meanwhile, Love occupied 11th place while Jones, Gray, van Gisbergen and Ryan Sieg were in the top 15. 

Ten laps later, Almirola extended his advantage to two seconds over teammate Chandler Smith, who bumped into the side of teammate Creed three laps earlier, to move into the runner-up spot. Behind, Creed, who slipped up the track in Turn 1 with 22 laps remaining while giving teammate Smith a bump back following their contact, was battling Mayer for third while Allgaier trailed by more than four seconds in fifth place. 

Another three laps later, the caution flew after Ryan Sieg, who was running in the top 15, spun and hit the outside wall in Turn 1 after he over-drove his No. 39 Sci Aps Ford Mustang entering the turn, which evaporated Almirola’s reasonable advantage over teammate Chandler Smith.  

Down to the final 11 laps of the event, the event restarted under green. At the start, teammates Almirola and Chandler Smith battled dead even and rubbed fenders for the lead through the first two turns and the backstretch. Then in Turns 3 and 4, Smith bumped Almirola and muscled his No. 81 Wheelers Toyota Supra into the lead. A lap later, however, Almirola bumped and sent Smith up the track in Turns 3 and 4. This allowed Almirola to reassume the lead followed by Mayer while Smith was left to battle teammate Creed for third place. 

Then with a series of battles and on-track contact ensuing within the field in the closing laps, Mayer bumped and made his move beneath Almirola for the lead through the backstretch with eight laps remaining. Amid a tight side-by-side battle, Mayer then motored his No. 1 10X Health Chevrolet Camaro ahead to lead the proceeding lap ahead of Almirola before the caution returned due to a multi-car wreck that erupted when Jeb Burton got turned sideways along with Myatt Snider and resulted with both, including Clements, Kyle Sieg and DiBenedetto all wrecking and sustaining significant damage to their respective entries. The incident was enough to send the event into overtime. 

At the start of the overtime period, Mayer and Almirola briefly battled dead even for the lead in Turn 1 until Creed attempted to stretch the battle to three lanes through the turn, which he got Mayer sideways amid contact. This allowed Almirola to muscle ahead on the outside lane as he reassumed the lead from Mayer while the field fanned out through the backstretch. 

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Almirola remained as the leader by four-tenths of a second over Mayer. Not long after, the caution returned and the event was deemed official after Herbst, who was racing in the top 10, got sideways entering Turn 1 and backed his No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang hard against the outside wall as Ryan Ellis and Brandon Jones also piled into the carnage. With the event concluding under caution, Almirola was able to coast his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing entry around the Martinsville circuit smoothly for a final time before returning to the frontstretch and claiming his first checkered flag of the 2024 Xfinity season.

With the victory, Almirola, who was making his fourth Xfinity start of the 2024 season, recorded his fifth NASCAR Xfinity Series career win in his 108th series start. He also achieved his first victory at Martinsville Speedway and his first series win since winning at Sonoma Raceway in June 2023 while driving for RSS Racing. As a bonus, Almirola claimed the first Dash 4 Cash’s $100,000 bonus of this season, which marked his first time achieving the award. The victory was the fourth of the season for both Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota. 

The Martinsville victory with Joe Gibbs Racing was extremely meaningful for the veteran Almirola, whose first career start across NASCAR’s top three national touring series occurred in a JGR car in the Xfinity Series at Richmond Raceway in May 2006. In addition, Almirola was credited with his first Xfinity career victory with JGR at the Milwaukee Mile in June 2007.

The victory occurred after Almirola, who had started on pole position and was dominating early, was forced to relinquish his seat to Denny Hamlin, who was initially set to compete in the entry but was not able to arrive at the track in time for the event’s start, due to sponsorship obligations. In the end, Hamlin proceeded to win as a relief competitor while Almirola, who did not participate in the team’s celebration, was credited the victory due to starting the event.

For tonight, Almirola, who retired from full-time Cup Series competition at the conclusion of the 2023 season and rejoined Joe Gibbs Racing for a part-time campaign in the Xfinity Series, was not to be denied of earning an Xfinity victory driving for JGR while completing all of the event’s miles from start to finish behind the steering wheel.

Photo by John Knittel for

“Man, this is so awesome,” Almirola said on FS1. “To win for Joe Gibbs Racing, I’ve had an asterisk next to a win for Coach [Gibbs] for 17 years and this is so awesome to finally put a real win banner up inside the shop at Joe Gibbs Racing. Man, this GR Supra was fast. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Coach, for calling me and giving me this opportunity to come and have some fun and still scratch the itch of racing, but still to get to spend a lot of time with my family. I’ve had so much pressure to win. I think everybody expected me to just get in [the No. 20 car] and go win.

“The reality is it’s really hard to jump in these cars and race against the guys that do it week in and week out. This just feels really good. I’ve won a lot of races in my career, through the late model ranks and stuff to get me that opportunity to go to work for Coach. And then from there, it’s been a lot of ups and downs and a lot of struggles over 20 years in NASCAR. To cap off my career doing it the way I want to do it with Coach, with this whole organization at Joe Gibbs Racing, it feels amazing. We’re gonna celebrate this one.” 

Mayer, who led 11 laps and has finished no higher than ninth during the first six events on the schedule, posted a strong runner-up result followed by Chandler Smith, who led three laps and rallied from starting at the rear of the field without posting a qualifying lap to finish third. 

“The way this year’s gone, I’m happy with P2 at the end of the day,” Mayer said. “We finished the race. The car’s pretty much in one piece. Man, those restarts here are just ruthless and painful. Obviously, [Almirola] was really, really good today, and it was good that I was able to keep up and be as fast as them and pass all those [Joe Gibbs Racing] cars there at the end and march up to the front, for real. That’s the first time I’ve done that here. Super proud of [the No. 1] guys. We’re digging ourselves out of a whole little by little. At the end of the day, we needed a [win] and got one, I feel like, stolen from me there a little bit. We’re gonna go and try to haul the mail [at Texas Motor Speedway].” 

Newcomer Carson Kvapil achieved a solid fourth-place finish in his Xfinity Series debut while Allgaier ended up in fifth place. Sheldon Creed, Sammy Smith, Cole Custer, rookie Jesse Love and Josh Williams finished in the top 10. 

With Almirola not scheduled to compete in next weekend’s event on the schedule at Texas Motor Speedway, the next four competitors who will contend for the second Dash 4 Cash bonus of this season will be Sam Mayer, Chandler Smith, Justin Allgaier and Sheldon Creed.

There were 15 lead changes for eight different leaders. The race featured 11 cautions for 68 laps. In addition, 24 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap. 

Following the seventh event of the 2024 Xfinity Series season, Chandler Smith continues to lead the regular-season standings by 35 points over Cole Custer, 41 over Austin Hill, 76 over Jesse Love and 79 over Justin Allgaier. 


1. Aric Almirola, 148 laps led, Stage 1 winner 

2. Sam Mayer, 11 laps led 

3. Chandler Smith, three laps led 

4. Carson Kvapil 

5. Justin Allgaier, 14 laps led, Stage 2 winner 

6. Sheldon Creed 

7. Sammy Smith, 42 laps led 

8. Cole Custer, 27 laps led 

9. Jesse Love 

10. Josh Williams 

11. Shane van Gisbergen 

12. Parker Kligerman, five laps led 

13. Taylor Gray 

14. Brennan Poole 

15. Anthony Alfredo 

16. Blaine Perkins 

17. Ryan Sieg 

18. Hailie Deegan 

19. Myatt Snider 

20. Dexter Bean 

21. Matt DiBenedetto 

22. Jeremy Clements 

23. Kyle Sieg 

24. Dawson Cram 

25. Riley Herbst – OUT, Accident 

26. Ryan Ellis – OUT, Accident 

27. Brandon Jones – OUT, Accident 

28. Joey Gase, one lap down, one lap led 

29. Garrett Smithley, two laps down 

30. Logan Bearden, four laps down 

31. Leland Honeyman, seven laps down 

32. Jeb Burton – OUT, Accident 

33. Kyle Weatherman – OUT, Accident 

34. Austin Hill – OUT, Accident 

35. Corey Heim – OUT, Accident 

36. AJ Allmendinger – OUT, Accident 

37. Parker Retzlaff – OUT, Accident 

38. Akinori Ogata – OUT, Brakes 

Next on the 2024 NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule is Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, for the Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 and where the second Dash 4 Cash event will occur. The event is scheduled to occur next Saturday, April 13, at 1:30 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


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