But to the driver of the No. 98 Fred Biagi-owned Ford, that was a vast improvement over his first victory in the series—when he wasn’t even in the car when the race ended.
In Friday night’s Subway Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway, Almirola was inches ahead of Justin Allgaier off the final corner in overtime when NASCAR called the eighth caution of the race and froze the field because of a wild wreck on the backstretch involving polesitter David Ragan.
Though Almirola was credited with a 2007 win at the Milwaukee Mile, where he started the race in place of Denny Hamlin, who was commuting from the Sprint Cup venue at Sonoma and his helicopter could not land in time for Hamlin to start the race. But Hamlin climbed into the car on a yellow flag on lap 59 and took the checkered flag after taking over the car. Almirola has never felt the win was rightfully his and that there was an asterisk by his name.
Tonight Almirola removed the asterisk that was by his name in the XFINITY Series record book.
“I’m so glad to be back in Victory Lane here at Daytona,” Almirola said. “This is such a special place for me. I won my first Cup race here two years ago, and for me, this is my first XFINITY win. I know I have a win, but there’s always been an asterisk next to it…
“I hated the fact that I got credit for that. When they called me the winner, I didn’t want any of the credit. (Crew chief) Dave Rogers actually got the trophy. They tried to give me the trophy, but I didn’t want it. I didn’t think I deserved to win the race, because I wasn’t in the car when the race was over.
“But tonight I was. Tonight we went to Victory Lane, and I’m here, and I was in the car—so this is my first XFINITY win.”
Almirola already was one of 26 drivers who have won at least one race in each of NASCAR’s top three series. Now he can feel good about it.
Allgaier, on the other hand was on the short end of the video that showed Almirola in the lead when the caution was called.
“When you lose ‘em by that little bit, it’s frustrating,” said Allgaier, who estimated he lost the event by “a sixteenth of a foot.
“But when you’re disappointed with second, it’s still a good day… Man, when you’re that close, it’s really, really tough. We’ll keeping digging. At some point we’ve got to maybe pull one of these off.”
Ryan Sieg finished third, matching the career-best result he achieved in this race two years ago. Joey Logano led a race-high 46 of 103 laps but was shuffled back with fewer than 20 laps left and recovered to run fourth. Brendan Gaughan came home fifth.
Ragan led the field to green to start the overtime but quickly lost his drafting partner and surrendered the top spot. Subbing for Matt Tifft, who had come out of brain surgery for a tumor just before the race began, Ragan tried to block the outside lane on the final lap and finished 21st in a demolished Toyota.
“I was kind of a sitting duck,” Ragan said. “My teammate, Erik Jones, did a great job on that white-flag lap, but we just got separated. And I didn’t really know that third lane was coming as fast as they were, and I saw that the 98 (Almirola) and the 7 (Allgaier) had a decent run, but I thought I could block the very top, and you only have so much room.
“That was just a product of speedway racing.”
Points leader Daniel Suarez was the victim of a hard crash into the inside SAFER barrier on the backstretch on Lap 49 and finished 32nd but maintained a six-point lead in the standings over Elliott Sadler, who had to pit for fuel before the overtime and came home 18th.
Check out the unofficial results of the Subway Firecracker 250 at Daytona.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!