By Adam Carabine & Crystal Clay
It was ‘right place, right time’ for Aric Almirola when Jeffrey Earnhardt spun, bringing the caution out with 17 to go in the Xfinity Series Door Dash 250 at Sonoma Raceway.
Up to that moment, Kyle Larson was putting on a clinic. At one point he led the field by over 10 seconds. Larson was 1.2 seconds faster than anyone else in practice, went on to win the pole, and led 53 laps all day.
When Daniel Suarez (driving the #07) and Alex Labbé gambled by staying out in the final caution, Larson lined up third. When Suarez didn’t get a strong restart, Almirola was able to capitalize, and he never looked back.
“That last set of tires, it took off on that restart. I knew that clean air was going to be important,” Almirola said.
Larson didn’t give up without a fight, as he tailed Almirola for the better part of the final stint. A costly steering error in turn 11 gave Almirola some breathing room, then he cruised to the checkered flag.
“I had a great shot to win, I just got a little too greedy there,” said a dejected Larson after the race.His tires hit the rumble strips in turn 11 and yanked the wheel out of his hands.
Almirola was able to breathe a sigh of relief after the turn 11 incident: “Larson made a mistake into 11 and it gave me a lot of breathing room. I was able to start slowing everything down, I was driving over my head trying to keep him behind me.”
It was not an immediate slam dunk for Almirola, as he still had 13 laps left in the race. On an abrasive surface like Sonoma, taking care of tires was paramount. However, Allmendinger and Larson were battling for position, slowing themselves down.
“When Larson and Allmedinger started racing hard behind me, it gave me a real opportunity to take care of my stuff.”
Almirola still has his work cut out for him this weekend, as he qualified 20th in the Cup Series race. Almirola was not confident that his winning experience in the Xfinity Series would carry over to the Cup car.
“I forgot just how different [the cars] are, I felt like a fish out of water for the first couple laps [of Cup practice.]”
“I did not personally feel like it was very beneficial. The brake markers are way different, the transmission is way different, the way the car drives and handles and moves around is just way different. So, [running the Xfinity race] was not something to help me on the Cup side, it was more just for fun.”
Almirola and the rest of the Cup Series drivers will tackle Sonoma on Sunday for the Toyota/Save Mart 350.