To say that Aric Almirola had a career year in 2018 would be an understatement. He finished fifth in points, which outdid his previous best by 11 positions. Almirola also made the playoffs in 2014 by virtue of scoring one win on a restrictor-plate, superspeedway as a yellow flag was waving, but he finished last among the contenders.
In 2018, he also scored a single victory on a plate track, but that came during the playoffs and he had run well enough in the regular season to qualify on points.
Almirola was one of the most consistent drivers last year. He kicked off the season with an 11th in the Daytona 500 and then ended 14 of his next 15 attempts in a narrow band of sixth through 17th. The only time he failed to finish that well was at Texas Motor Speedway in the spring when he was a victim of that track’s heavy attrition.
In the first half of the season, Almirola developed a reputation for being unable to close the deal. He challenged for wins, but something always seemed to go wrong – dropping him from the top five in the process. The same thing was happening with teammate Kevin Harvick, but that team was strong enough to charge all the way back to the front on a number of occasions.
Almirola did not earn his first top-five until past the halfway point. A third at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was followed by more strong runs and disappointing finishes at Chicagoland Speedway and Daytona International Speedway.
His turning point was yet to come.
Almirola turned up the intensity during the playoffs. He finished sixth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and was fifth the following week at Richmond Raceway. His worst result in the final 10 races was a 19th on the Charlotte Roval; that was also the only time he finished outside the top 15.
In 2019, expect this team to perform even better with another season under their belts. Last year they finished in the back half of the field seven times. If they can eliminate mistakes, that will shrink to less than a handful. So long as cap managers do not go overboard on his value, Almirola will be a driver to consider on a weekly basis.
Until he learns to win on something other than a plate track, however, Almirola is not going to anchor many rosters.
Three Best Tracks
Richmond (15.5 in 14 attempts)
Dover (16.2 in 13)
Talladega (16.3 in 19)
Three Worst Tracks
Auto Club (25.8 in 11)
Pocono (25.7 in 13)
Bristol (25.1 in 20)
Victories:  Talladega II
Top-fives: 4 (.111)
Top-10s: 17 (.472)
Top-15s: 27 (.750)
2018 Finishes at or above their rank? = 15 (41.7%)