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|WINNERS NOT ADDING UP
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|NEXT TWO WEEKS COULD BE TOO GOOD
|WALTRIP A TWO-WAY HALL OF FAMER
ALMIROLA THE OLD TRUEX
When last Sunday's race was over at Dover, as he contemplated yet another stroke of bad luck, on pit road Aric Almirola stood there, arms crossed, leaned up against his car. He didn't move for what seemed like an eternity. His face was grim, but not distraught and Almirola's eyes seemed to stare off into deep space.
Turns out his sunglasses hid where he was really focused. He was riveted on the celebration only a hundred yards
"I want to be there," Almirola said with a hint of exasperation. "I want to be in Victory Lane."
If life were fair he deserved to be, but, yet again, the racing gods had treated with a gut-wrenching cruelty.
His teammate Kevin Harvick was clearly the class of the field as he looked for a sweep of the Monster Energy Cup Series races this year on the Monster Mile. Like a good hunting dog, though, Almirola had kept him with sniffing distance, his Smithfield Ford plenty fast to comfortably keep contact with the leader. Then, Harvick had a problem on pit road and it was time for Almirola to take control of the race.
"I know better to not get too far ahead of myself and to just race the race and take it as it comes," he explained. "You know we were obviously in
This wasn't going to be like his first career Cup win, which came in a rain-shortened race at Daytona in July 2014. No, on this occasion, with Harvick out of contention, Almirola was the hammer and all the other competitors were the nails.
"When Kevin had his misfortune, I thought that kind of put it in our lap to be the car to beat and just didn't work out."
The reason why would be a replay of the race earlier in the year at Loudon when Almirola seemed destined to pick up his first win for Stewart-Haas Racing when his teammate Clint Bowyer brought out a yellow flag that turned everything upside down.
"I'm so sick for Aric. It was his race to win," confessed Bowyer. "Hell, he had one won at New Hampshire and we had trouble broke something. Just a shame. It was his win and
Then came the darned if you do, darned if you don't moment trying to figure out as the leader whether to pit or not pit. His crew chief Johnny Klausmeier elected to pit for four tires while some stayed out or took on two. It left Almirola on the outside of row three with three laps to go.
On the ensuing restart, he would make a bold move on the exit of turn two, but he ran out of track and the law of physics threw his car into the wall and, like a pool ball, he caromed into Brad Keselowski, leaving the asphalt littered with ripped up race machines.
"I hate that we tore up a bunch of cars on the back straightaway. I got tight there off two and I didn't really want to check up. I was going for it. You don't get an opportunity to win races every day and so I was going for it."
A possible win had turned into an unlucky 13th place finish.
"You feel bad for Aric in that situation," said Dale Jarrett on NBC. "A couple of times this year he's done everything right as a driver and circumstances just didn't work out. I'm sure they'll second guess should we have stayed on the track because the guy that won the race didn't come get tires and we could have been that person."
Added his cohort Kyle Petty, "It's tough to win a Cup race. It's tough to beat 35-40 competitors out there. It's really tough to beat circumstances and circumstances just fell wrong. He did everything he could to win a race. I'm heartbroken for Aric Almirola. He's been so close so many times, right there on the verge of it."
It was then it struck me Almirola is just the old Martin Truex, Jr. There was a time he couldn't buy a win to save his life. There were so many races, a win was in sight only to see it disappear like a wisp of smoke. If Truex had the lead late in a race, you just knew, and he did too, something was going to happen to take it away. Maybe it would be a blown tire or an inopportune yellow flag in the closing laps with
It took Truex 58 races to get his first win, but another 219 before he grabbed another checkered flag only to go through a 70-race drought to get number three. However, in his last 102 starts, Truex has graced victory lane 16 times." A genuinely good guy, Truex got his just rewards for persevering when others might have cursed the heavens and walked away.
So, the question now is whether or not this movie can have a sequel with the same ending, only this time Almirola is in the starring role? Kyle Petty seems to think so. "He's going to get it. He's going to be one of those drivers when he busts that ceiling it's going to go wide open, he's going to win a lot of races."
Let's hope that's the case. For his tireless and steadfast resolve, Almirola is worth rooting for and this from a guy who didn't think he'd make it out of the Playoff's first round. I'm glad I was wrong.