When he took the white flag for the 60th Daytona 500, Aric Almirola was certain about his future.
“I thought I was going to win the Daytona 500,” he told Fox Sports after the race.
But he didn’t win.
Instead, Almirola’s day ended with him climbing from his damaged No. 10 Ford after wrecking at the end of the backstretch, less than a half-lap from the checkered flag.
The wreck happened when race-winner Austin Dillon locked bumpers with Almirola as they neared Turn 3. The move and Almirola’s defense of it turned Almirola into the outside wall.
Despite being “heart broken” and “devastated” he didn’t win, let alone finish the “Great American Race,” Almirola held no hard feelings for Dillon afterwards.
“He’s not driving too aggressively, he’s trying to win the Daytona 500 just like I was,” Almirola said. “I saw him come with the momentum and I pulled up to block and did exactly what I needed to do to try to win the Daytona 500. I wasn’t gonna just let him have it. I wasn’t gonna just stay on the bottom and let him rail the outside, so I blocked and he got to my bumper and pushed and I thought I was still gonna be OK and somehow I got hooked. I still haven’t seen the replay, so I don’t know what happened, but I’m just devastated.”
If it had been any other lap in the race, Almirola would have raced Dillon differently.
“If that was Lap 5, I probably wouldn’t have pulled that block, but it was the last lap of the Daytona 500 and I was doing everything I could to try and win,” Almirola said. “I wanted to win the Daytona 500.”
Sunday’s race was Almirola’s first with Stewart-Haas racing after six years driving the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports.
Almirola, who was credited with an 11th-place finish, was in a backup car after he wrecked in his qualifying race on Thursday.
“We were a half a lap away from winning the Daytona 500,” Almirola said. “I’m really proud of that. I’m still very excited. I’m not gonna let that get me down. We’ve got an incredible race team and I’m gonna go to Atlanta and we’re gonna have good race cars there and we’ll have a shot to win next week. That’s something I’ve not had in my career, where I feel like every week I get on the plane to go to the race track I feel like we’re gonna have a shot to go win. This is just one race. It might be the biggest race and this one is gonna hurt for a while, but I think next week we’ll have another shot.”