Aric Almirola’s speed neutralized by loose wheels, pit gun problems

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JOLIET, Ill. – The best car of Aric Almirola’s NASCAR career resulted in his second-worst finish of the 2018 season.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led a race-high 70 laps but finished 25th Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, victimized by two loose rear wheels that his team believes apparently happened because of a pit gun problem.

“That’s the best car I’ve ever had compared to the competition,” said Almirola, who also won the first stage after starting sixth. “It was just so fast. Our Smithfield Ford Fusion was excellent, especially out in clean air. It was just incredibly fast. We’ve just got to execute. We’ve got to put a whole race together. That’s the difference between being good and being great.

“We’re capable of winning. We showed it today. We’re capable. We’ve got speed. We’re bringing incredible race cars to the race track, and we’ve just got to put a whole day together. We’ve got to be flawless on pit road.”

It was a left-rear wheel that forced Almirola to pit from the lead on Lap 122 of 267. After cycling into the lead on Lap 135 because of being off-sequence, Almirola pitted from the lead under green on Lap 142 with a right-rear wheel that was loose.

Both times, he stayed on track a few laps after the vibration began, but “it was getting so violent, I couldn’t ride it out. It was really, really bad. I went a couple of extra laps hoping and praying for a caution, but it was getting so violent, I had to come.”

Crew chief Johnny Klausmeier said the team had no loose wheels on the No. 10 Ford during the first 16 races this season.

“It was ultimately our rear gun,” he said. “We had our backup gun on the front, and the RPMs kind of fluctuated in the race. We thought we had it fixed. The changer didn’t feel he was going fast. We have to figure out what went wrong and why it is. There’s nothing conclusive right now.

“I feel we gave up a ton of points. I feel like we could have been there right at the end. It just stinks.”

Almirola remains winless since joining SHR this season despite two agonizing near-misses at the second victory of his career. He was a half-lap from winning the Daytona 500 before being bumped from the lead by Austin Dillon.

“Really, really frustrated, but the good news is our cars are fast,” said Almirola, who is 11th in the points standings and 126 points ahead of the current cut line for the playoffs. “We can build on that.

“We’re going to win a race. I guarantee we’re going to win a race. We just got to be perfect to do it.”