Aric Almirola was one of the last three drivers to sustain damage last week in the Busch Clash and that ability to stay out of trouble on the aero-restricted superspeedways served him well in 2019.
Throughout his career, Almirola has been better at Talladega than Daytona. His average finish in Alabama is 15.4 in 21 starts, making it his best track in that regard. At Daytona, he has a 22.3 in 17, which ranks only 20th. Most drivers do not fare significantly different between the two big tracks, however, and one can treat this as a statistical anomaly.
In the past three years, Almirola has been strong on both courses. Dating back to the 2016 Hellmann's 500 at Talladega, he has banked nine top-10s and an 11th in 12 starts. He missed the 2017 Coke Zero 400 with injury, but otherwise swept the top five that season. In 2018 he was 11th or better in three of four races.
Last year Almirola kicked his superspeedway season off with a modest result of 32nd. As with most races on this track type it requires an asterisk. He was eliminated in a Lap 190 accident, but he spent 159 laps inside the top 15 before he was eliminated by someone else’s mistake. His top-15 laps ranked fifth. Even with his early departure, Almirola had the 11th-best Driver Rating.
Almirola put that behind him. He went to Talladega and qualified on the outside pole before finishing ninth. Back in Daytona in the summer, he finished seventh. In Talladega 2, he qualified fifth, spent 60% of the race inside the top 15, and finished fourth.
Almirola is aggressive enough on superspeedways to stay in the draft. He’s smart enough not to make many mistakes.
Looking back at his most recent 18 superspeedway races, he has a top-15 average of 70.6%. The only driver with a better number to his credit is Ryan Newman, who is one of our other drivers to watch closely this week. Almirola’s top-10 percentage (52.9%) is better than Newman’s. In fact, it is better than anyone else entered this week.
Stewart-Haas Racing is one of the stronger organizations on superspeedways. It wasn’t all that long ago that their four drivers dominated most of a Talladega race before getting broken up in the run to the checkers. While their marquee driver Kevin Harvick is much too expensive in cap games and crash prone to be attractive, another is an untested rookie, and the third is erratic on this course type, Almirola consistently finds his way to the front and should be on a majority of rosters.
Career Average Finish: 22.3 in 17 starts (ranked 20th)
2019 1000Bulbs.com 500: 4
2019 Coke Zero 400: 7
Geico 500: 9
2019 Daytona 500: 32