For the sixth time this season, a Sprint Cup track record was set in qualifying as Aric Almirola became the fastest man ever at venerable Darlington Raceway this evening.
Almirola logged a lap of 184.145 miles per hour in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion during the second round of the three-round knockout qualifying for tomorrow’s Bojangles Southern 500.
That made him tops among the 12 drivers that advanced to the final round, but Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano were able to beat him in those last five minutes, putting Almirola third on the starting grid.
“We just missed it a little bit [in the final round],” Almirola said. “We made one adjustment right there before that third session and I don’t think we went far enough. We were just a little bit too tight, but that was a heck of a lap by Harvick.
“That track record lap actually didn’t feel – I felt like I was going faster in the third session than I did in the second session, and I went faster in the second session. It was a great lap for us.”
Lately, RPM has focused on its intermediate program, which has lacked so far this year in comparison to the team’s work on short tracks.
Today, it paid off with Almirola qualifying third and teammate Marcos Ambrose qualifying alongside him in fourth.
“Typically, we’ve not run really well on short tracks and our mile-and-a-half program has where we’ve been best. But the roles are kind of reversed this year, and we’ve put a lot of effort into our mile-and-a-half program, and we ran a lot better at Texas.
“[We’re] still not where we need to be, but ran a lot better and then brought a race car here this weekend…[that] has a lot of speed in it. I feel really good about it.”
Almirola also wants to do well for his crew chief, Trent Owens, who is having a homecoming weekend at the track “Too Tough To Tame.” Owens grew up just a few miles from Darlington.
“I told him before we ever got here that he was gonna have to carry me this weekend because I do not like this race track and I tend to struggle here,” Almirola said. “So far, he’s carrying me pretty good. He brought me a really good car that’s got a lot of speed in it.
“Now we’ve gotta make it last 500 miles.”