Almirola takes advantage of late cautions, earns best result of 2015

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With 17 laps remaining in Sunday’s Fedex 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks, Aric Almirola was running in 10th place. Even if he stayed there, he would earn his best finish of 2015.

But then two wrecks in the final 13 scheduled laps further improved the fortunes of Almirola and his No. 43 Smithfield Ford, which was the “Lucky Dog” more than once in the 405-lap race at Dover International Speedway.

Separate three-car accidents on Laps 387 and 398 moved Almirola up from 10th, and through two restarts, he was able to put his car in fifth once the checkered flag waved.

“I earned my money today, that is for sure,” Almirola said. “(The car) was a handful most of the day. It started off extremely tight. (Crew chief) Trent Owens and the guys made really good adjustments on the car and got it better and better.”

Almirola earned the free pass two times — on the first (Lap 75) and third (Lap 176) cautions of the race. He would start at the back of the pack each time before being lapped within the next 30 to 50 laps. Eventually, Almirola finally found himself ahead of the lead pack when a caution came out, allowing him to restart on the lead lap and make his way into the top 10.

“That was the big break for us,” Almirola said. “It was a great day for us, a really good points day for us.”

Almirola entered Sunday’s race 12th in the driver’s standings, 134 points behind leader Kevin Harvick and six points out of 10th place. He exits Dover 10th in the standings, 138 points behind Harvick.

“I am proud of Trent Owens and all the guys at Richard Petty Motorsports,” Almirola said. “They have been working their guts out trying to bring better cars to the race track week in and week out.”

Before Sunday, Almirola’s best finish was 11th three times, at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Auto Club Speedway and Kansas Speedway. He was averaging a finish of 15.8 through the season’s 12 races.

“We have to get better qualifying,” Almirola said. “That is our Achilles’ heel right now. We start too deep in the field every week. All in all, it was a good day for us, and I am ready to go to Pocono.”

At Pocono Raceway, Almirola has an average starting spot of 19th, which has been a key reason he hasn’t finished better than 18th in six starts at the three-turn track.