Being the first race of the NASCAR Playoffs, Darlington brought its fair share of surprises, drama and aggression. With drivers like Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch and William Byron all currently sitting below the cutline, the remaining two races of the Round of 16 are sure to continue that trend. In a meeting with media Tuesday morning, Aric Almirola said “It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be intense. I have no doubt that you will see a playoff car, or a couple, run into some trouble. It just happens.” After Darlington, Almirola currently holds the 11th spot with an anything-but-comfortable three-point lead over the cut line. In a race that saw trouble for many of the playoff drivers, Almirola’s #10 Stewart-Haas Ford finished in 16th place. “While not ideal, especially with a car that was capable of running anywhere from 7th to 10th most of the night, we didn’t take ourselves out.” Therein lies the dilemma for the rest of this playoff round – how aggressive is too aggressive? Almirola said, “It’s certainly a balance, […] the first round is definitely a round that you’ve got to survive. Winning obviously makes it way easier, but surviving is key. Any given year, you look back, at least two or three cars end up taking themselves out just from one or two bad races, wrecks, blown engines, whatever it is.” While he makes a good case for staying conservative, he also added, “You have to be aggressive, though. It’s such a balancing act between not making mistakes […] but at the same time you’ve got to race for every point. Every single stage point matters, every single position on the racetrack at the end of the race matters.” “It really is a tough challenge and a balancing act between being aggressive to go get the spots you need to go get, and making sure you don’t put yourself in a bad position.” Despite the difficult task ahead, Almirola is confident heading into Richmond this weekend, a track that he says is one of his best. Despite a disappointing regular season, the #10 team finished 6th at the spring Richmond race back in April. Since then, Almirola feels his team has improved a lot, particularly with the 750 HP package, saying “It gives me a lot of confidence knowing that we ran well there in the spring, and that we’re going back with a lot better race car. […] We’re taking the same car we won at [New Hampshire] with, so hopefully we can produce a similar result.” Aric Almirola will hope to punch his ticket to the Round of 12 this Saturday when the NASCAR Cup Series returns to Richmond Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts Salute to American Heroes 400.
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