DOVER, Del. — Aric Almirola stood against his car after he parked it on pit road Sunday and bowed his head.
When he looked up, he saw Chase Elliott drive into Victory Lane Sunday at Dover International Speedway. Moments later, Almriola saw Elliott’s celebration on a nearby video screen.
Then Almirola gazed back down at the ground.
“We’ve had so many opportunities and been so close and had the car to win and been in position,” Almirola said. “It just seems to not come through. I don’t know.
“Frustrated. Mad. Angry.”
Almirola was seven laps from winning his second career Cup race when a caution for Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer’s incident brought out the caution.
Then the decision became if to pit.
Almirola gave up his lead to do so. Not everybody joined him. Elliott, who was third, stayed out. Brad Keselowski, who was fourth, stayed out and restarted alongside Elliott on the front row. Martin Truex Jr., who was ninth, also didn’t pit and restarted third.
“That’s one of the situations where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” Almirola said of crew chief Johnny Klausmeier’s decision to pit. “I feel like Johnny made the right call. We had a great car, it was really firing off on the restarts really fast and to come get four tires and be on offense; we’ve talked about that a lot this year about putting ourselves in situations to be on offense and we were. We put ourselves in position and it didn’t work out.”
Almirola restarted sixth. Trouble ensued shortly after the green waved.
Almirola bounced off the backstretch wall and hit Keselowski, triggering a crash that collected four other playoff drivers.
“I tried to at least go to where they weren’t, the top,” said Almirola, who led 64 laps, second only to teammate Kevin Harvick‘s 286 laps led. “(Hamlin) moved up to block me, and I just got really tight off of (Turn) 2. I bounced off the fence and got into Brad and we tore up a bunch of race cars on the back straightaway. I hate that for everybody that was involved. Kind of killed our day, too.
“I feel like we should be over there in Victory Lane celebrating and we’re not.”
Almirola finished 13th. Instead of qualifying for the next round and not having to worry about how he finishes next week at Talladega Superspeedway, Almirola is ninth in the standings. He trails Ryan Blaney by 10 points for the final transfer spot.
But that didn’t matter to Almirola as much immediately after the race as Elliott celebrated his second career Cup win.
“I want that for our team,” Almirola said. “I want that for our sponsors. I want to go to Victory Lane. That’s what I get paid to do, to try to win races. I’m frustrated that’s not us over there. That’s a hard one to swallow.
“That one is going to be a tough one.”