Aric Almirola advances in playoffs after ‘wild and crazy’ Roval experience

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CONCORD, N.C — Aric Almirola thought his day and his playoff hopes were destroyed.

Being in a 15-car pileup with six laps left in a race can do that to a person.

Almirola believed he had avoided the wreck in Turn 1 of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. Then Bubba Wallace plowed into the back of his No. 10 Ford and sent him into a group of cars that had appeared in front of him.

Even before the crash, Almirola’s maiden voyage on the 17-turn, 2.28-mile course, and the weekend leading up to it had been a nightmare. Or as Almirola called it, “adversity.”

In practice Friday and Saturday, he spun in Turn 3, backing his car into the same area of the wall.

“I was really anxious all week leading into it, and I’ll be honest, I prayed a lot just for ‑‑ just hoping that everything would work out,” Almirola said. “I kept telling myself to quit making mistakes like I did in practice. … It was just one of those weekends. It was just wild and crazy and out of control.”

On Sunday, Almirola hit the frontstretch wall with five laps to go in Stage 1 while trying to avoid William Byron as he lost his right front tire. He then brought out the caution on Lap 70 after being forced off track in Turn 6 by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and running through a Bojangles’ advertisement.

After all that and the Turn 1 pileup, his team was able to make his car raceable for the final three laps.

“That last restart they told me I was ‑6 points and that I needed to go,” said Almirola, who “rifled” his car into Turn 1 and passed three cars even after wheel-hopping.

“Then we came back to the start‑finish line and they told me I needed three more spots, and those last couple laps I was able to get those three spots,” said Almirola, who passed Daniel Suarez for 19th entering Turn 1 on the last lap. “I had one more in my sights, and somebody spun off of the infield Turn 4, and it was just a cloud of smoke. I couldn’t see where I was going, so I checked up because the last thing I needed to do was wreck.”

When he came across the finish line in 19th, Almirola was told he was in a tie with Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson with 2,097 points.

Johnson was eliminated after finishing eighth due to his last-lap incident with Martin Truex Jr. Larson advanced after passing a stalled Jeffrey Earnhardt right before the start-finish line.

Thanks to his finish at Richmond (fifth), Almirola advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time.

“I told (crew chief) Johnny Klausmeier going into this weekend all I really cared about was leaving here +1,” said Almirola. “It turns out +0 is good enough.”