Sitting center at the podium in the deadline room at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a disappointed Aric Almirola put on a forced smile as he elaborated on his third-place finish.
“You’d think I’d be happy (smiling). We had an incredible Smithfield Ford Fusion today, felt like it was the car to beat, for sure. We got out front there and felt really good about it, felt comfortable. That last caution there, we came down pit road leading, went out third, lost control of the race. Then I spun my tires on the restart and didn’t even give myself a fighting chance to go race for the win.
“Just frustrated on all parts that we didn’t execute the way we needed to to try and win. Chicago we had a car capable of winning, and didn’t get it done. Here again, had a car capable of winning, didn’t get it done.”
After usurping the lead from teammate Kevin Harvick with 69 laps to go and with a car that gained speed over long runs, Almirola had the race in check. That long-run advantage evaporated, however, when teammate Clint Bowyer hit the Turn 3 wall with 45 to go. A pit miscue on the left-front tire cost him the lead.
On the ensuing restart with 39 to go, he spun his tires and fell back to sixth in the running order. While Harvick nudged Kyle Busch out of the groove in the closing laps to win, Almirola rallied to a third-place finish.
“I laid back off of Harvick’s bumper a little bit, was trying to time the restart to roll up to him and Kyle (Busch),” Almirola said. “Kyle went right at the beginning, maybe even slightly before. He went right at the beginning, if nothing else, of the restart zone. It caught me off guard. Earlier in the race they had been dragging the restart out further in the restart zone. I was kind of anticipating that. When Kyle fired, I was caught off guard. When I fired, I just spun the tires because I wasn’t prepared.”
While his runs in the first two stages weren’t notable, he finished 10th in the first stage and fifth in the second, Almirola first took the lead with 89 to go when he used lap traffic as a pick to overtake teammate Kurt Busch for the lead. He surrendered the lead to pit 15 laps later and cycled back to second, right behind Harvick. With 69 to go, he used lap traffic as a pick again to pass Harvick for the lead in Turn 3, which he maintained until the aforementioned caution with 45 to go.
“It’s frustrating. But everybody keeps telling me, ‘You got to lose some before you win some.’ So we’ve lost some. Time to stop it, time to go to Victory Lane. We’re capable. We have a race team capable of doing it. Our cars are really fast. Just ready to go get to Victory Lane next week. Where we going next week? Pocono, perfect. Let’s go.”
Almirola led 42 laps (his highest since Kansas in 2012), earned his first Top-five of the season and leaves Loudon 11th in points.