Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – TALLADEGA, AL – “Dover’s over.” It took Aric Almirola a full day of reflection to be able to say those words, after a promising race at Dover International Speedway ended in disaster.
Almirola led 64 laps overall and appeared headed for his first victory of the season last Sunday when a front suspension failure sent Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer into the outside wall between Turns 3 and 4 at the Monster Mile.
Taking four tires under the resulting caution, Almirola dropped from the lead to sixth for a restart with four laps left in regulation. Trying to hustle his No. 10 Ford through the first two corners, he clipped the outside wall near the exit from Turn 2 and triggered a five-car wreck that damaged the cars of four other Playoff contenders.
Instead of winning the race, Almirola finished 13th as Chase Elliott took the checkered flag in overtime and earned automatic advancement to the Round of 8. Almirola dropped to ninth in the Playoff standings, tied with Bowyer, and comes to Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) needing to make up ground.
Last Sunday night was difficult Almirola, because Dover wasn’t the first victory that has slipped from his grasp this season. He also had winning chances at New Hampshire and Chicagoland but failed to close the deal.
“I feel like, obviously, Sunday night was rough… pretty frustrated and just a bunch of emotions all at once, just because you feel like you’re so close, and the same thing at Loudon, so close, and Chicago, so close, and having a fast car and not getting to Victory Lane and wanting it so bad,” Almirola said.
“I think that’s the worst part is like when you go into it with low expectations and you’re not a dominant car and then, all of a sudden, you pop up and you’re running up front and it gets taken away you’re like, ‘Yeah, well, shoot, we could have won that one.’
“But when you’re like the dominant car, and you’re leading laps and you’re running up front, and you really feel like you’ve got a shot to win and it gets taken away, there’s a lot of emotions that go through that, and just frustrated and mad and sad and angry and all of those things all at the same time. I was upset Sunday night, some of Monday and by midday Monday, I was already focused on Talladega.”
A visit to the race shop was all it took to shift Almirola’s perspective.
“I’d already been on the phone several times with Johnny (Klausmeier), my crew chief, and Tuesday morning got up and was at the shop bright and early and seeing the guys,” Almirola said.
“And once you see the guys and see that everybody else is over it, and they’re already working on Talladega cars, Dover’s over and everybody is focused on making sure our Talladega car is prepared and ready and fast.”
ALEX BOWMAN LOOKING FORWARD TO CHANGES AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS
Though his No. 88 Chevrolet team will be largely unaffected by the upcoming personnel changes at Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday, he does think the moves will bring a new dynamic to the organization.
The major news from Hendrick was the impending breakup of the driver Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, who have accumulated a record-tying seven Monster Energy Cup Series championship in 17 seasons together.
Knaus will move to the No. 24 Chevy of William Byron, while Kevin Meendering will move from JR Motorsports and the NASCAR Xfinity Series to call the shots from Johnson’s pit box. Byron’s current crew chief, Darian Grubb, will take an executive role as technical director.
But will those changes have a noticeable effect on Bowman’s No. 88 team?
“I would say a little bit, in that Darian is moving to a different position and Kevin is coming on board,” Bowman told the NASCAR Wire Service on Saturday morning at Talladega. “I know Kevin a little bit from when I was at JR Motorsports, and just kind of working closer with him will be neat.
“The four of us work pretty closely together, the four teams do. Some new faces or a new face there, Chad moving over to a different car and all that. It will be a little different, but not really much different. It won’t affect the No. 88 team. All our people are going to stay the same and all that.
“I think it’s an interesting move, for sure. I’m excited to see how it plays out. I’m excited for Jimmie and for William and for Chad and everybody involved. It’s going to be pretty cool to watch.”
MARTIN TRUEX JR. EYES BACK-TO-BACK CUP SERIES TITLES
Other than Jimmie Johnson’s record streak of five straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championships from 2006 through 2010, no other driver has won back-to-back titles since Jeff Gordon accomplished the feat in 1997-1998.
But reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. believes he has an excellent chance to repeat in 2018.
“Obviously, that’s our goal right now, and it’s going to be a challenge,” Truex said. “I think we’re up to it. I feel like we’re as good or better than we were last year, and we’ll just have to see.
“There’s so many things that have to go your way. If we can just shake the bad luck and shake the fact that we seem to get in bad positions here lately, we’ll have a shot at it.”
A good first step would involving finishing Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, where Truex’s last four starts have ended early—the result of an engine failure and three wrecks.