Chase Capsules: Aric Almirola


43-Aric Almirola
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
Crew Chief: Trent Owens
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Best Finish: 18th (2013)
Inaugural Chase Appearance

Regular Season Recap: Beyond the short tracks of Bristol and Martinsville, Almirola had been largely ensconced in mid-pack through the first half of 2014. But then came a soggy Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, which ended on a rain shower and with Almirola at the front of the field. Rain-shortened or not, a win’s a win and it put him into the Chase. Since that point, however, Almirola has pretty much returned to mid-pack status with just one Top-10 finish (ninth at Atlanta) following his victory.

Chris’ Take: A championship is simply too big a goal right now for Almirola and the mid-sized RPM team, and they probably know that. They also probably know that they can’t rely on another shock win to get them out of the Challenger Round. Almirola hasn’t been terrible on 1.5-milers like Chicagoland, but he hasn’t been a contender. And his past records at Loudon and Dover aren’t exactly robust. In order to advance, he and RPM have to pick up their performance. It’s that simple.

Jerry’s Take: As we see almost every year in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, a Cinderella team emerges and winds up going to at least the semifinals, if not further. In this case, Almirola has the potential to be NASCAR’s Cinderella, but he definitely has to step up his performance and go for the jugular in the first round. He has to drive it like he stole it, because there’s nine other guys who are going to do the same. This will be where Almirola shows that he not only has the talent to reach the championship round, but that he’ll pull off a few surprises along the way to do it.

Tony’s Take: Isn’t it cool to say the 43 has a shot to win the championship? Yes it is. And quite likely, that’s about the only thing cool we’ll be saying about the 43 in this year’s Chase. Almirola is the biggest unknown quantity in the pressure cooker of a playoff – even more than Allmendinger, who fought for open-wheel titles. It’s hard to see them doing much of anything, and if they escape the Challenger Round, that will be a major accomplishment.

Aric Almirola’s Career Statistics at Chase Tracks
Chicagoland (1.5 mile) – No wins, no Top-5s, no Top-10s in 2 starts
New Hampshire (1 mile) – No wins, 1 Top-5, 1 Top-10 in 8 starts
Dover (1 mile) – No wins, no Top-5s, 1 Top-10 in 5 starts
Kansas (1.5 mile) – No wins, no Top-5s, 3 Top-10s in 5 starts
Charlotte (1.5 mile) – No wins, no Top-5s, no Top-10s in 5 starts
Talladega (2.66 mile) – No wins, no Top-5s, 1 Top-10s in 9 starts
Martinsville (half-mile) – No win, 1 Top-5, 3 Top-10s in 11 starts
Texas (1.5-mile) – No wins, no Top-5s, 1 Top-10s in 7 starts
Phoenix (1 mile) – No wins, no Top-5s, no Top-10s in 7 starts
Homestead-Miami (1.5 mile) – No wins, 1 Top-5, 2 Top-10s in 4 starts

Alex Palou wins Detroit Grand Prix from pole


DETROIT – Alex Palou won the IndyCar Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix from the pole, fending off several challenges and three late restarts during a chaotic debut for a new downtown track.

After qualifying first, Palou won by 1.1843 seconds in his No. 10 Dallara-Honda over Will Power, followed by Felix Rosenqvist, Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi.

Kyle Kirkwood (who rebounded from falling to 26th in a massive shunt on the first lap) finished sixth, followed by Scott McLaughlin, Marcus Armstrong, Marcus Ericsson and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden to round out the top 10.

As expected, there was lots of action on the nine-turn, 1.645-mile layout that made its debut Sunday with seven caution flags chewing up 32 of 100 laps – and eliminating some contenders.

With 20 laps remaining, Romain Grosjean slammed the wall in Turn 4 while running seventh in his No. 28 Dallara-Honda, which had started third. He later attributed the problem to a suspension failure.

Pato O’Ward’s shot at a decent finish fell apart during a green-flag pit stop on Lap 35. The No. 5 Dallara-Chevy’s left rear wheel was loose as O’Ward left the stall, so he stopped to allow the crew to push him back.

He returned in 26th at the end of the lead lap but then slammed the wall in Turn 9 eight laps later after overshooting the corner.

“Honestly our race went upside down on that pit stop,” O’Ward said. “All downhill from there. It is what it is.”

The yellow flew again during the next restart on Lap 49 as Sting Ray Robb went into the tire barrier in Turn 3 while Christian Lundgaard and Santino Ferrucci (who was trying to fight back onto the lead lap) also were caught scrambling in traffic.

During the caution, Graham Rahal hit the Turn 1 wall and then was rear-ended by rookie Benjamin Pedersen.

“I got a lot of understeer,” Rahal said, struggling to process what had happened to lose control of his No. 15 Dallara-Honda. “It’s on me. I need to see the tape and understand. I’m just disappointed in myself with all the errors this weekend, just not driving well. It’s hard to figure out why, but ultimately it’s on me. I’ve got to perform a heck of a lot better than that, especially on a day like this.

“It’s just not typical of me. I know you’ve got to stay on the dance floor. I don’t know what to say. We weren’t good in the race. We were in pretty bad shape. It’s disappointing. I’ve got to be better. It’s been a really tough couple of months. We need a reset. I need a reset. We need to come back much, much stronger.”

The first incident occurred in the first corner as Callum Ilott rear-ended Kyle Kirkwood on the entry into the Turn 3 hairpin (starts and restarts for the race occurred on the longest straightaway off Turn 2).

Kirkwood, who was starting after clipping the wall in qualifying, was able to continue after pitting to change the rear wing of his No. 27 Dallara-Honda.

But Ilott’s day was over after failing to complete a lap.

“I didn’t have anywhere to really go, but it was my bad for kind of being a little bit on the late side,” the Juncos Hollinger Racing driver told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I was gaining bit of time, and they just checked up a little bit more than I anticipated the last bit. I wasn’t coming with that much more speed, but I just couldn’t slow it down on the last part, so sorry to the team and sorry to Kyle cause that didn’t help him, either. On to the next one.”

After four consecutive weeks of racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and on the streets of Detroit, IndyCar will take a one-week break before returning June 18 at Road America.