Sunday, June 23, 2024

Aric Almirola stone cold in Sonoma stunner

Kyle Larson is one of the best drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series and motorsport in general, as well as a former Cup winner at Sonoma Raceway. It was not surprising that he would dominate the lower Xfinity Series‘ inaugural trip to his home circuit on Saturday, crushing the field in practice and qualifying before leading the bulk of the race.

What was surprising, however, was that a late restart and rare stumble would do in his hopes of completing the daily sweep. Instead, Aric Almirola was the Cup driver in Victory Lane.

Larson led 53 of 80 laps ad swept both stages, asserting his dominance in such convincing fashion that he was leading the field by over thirteen seconds. Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s crash with fifteen laps remaining set up a restart for which Larson began in the second row behind Alex Labbé and Daniel Suárez, who elected not to pit. While the front row sparred with Almirola, Larson got caught up in a battle for third with A.J. Allmendinger before Larson clipped a stack of tyres in the final hairpin.

With his Cup colleagues fighting each other, Almirola drove off to his fourth career Xfinity win and first in any national series on a road course. The win was also the first for RSS Racing.

“This is so special. It’s hard to explain,” said Almirola. “I know it’s an Xfinity win. It’s not a Cup win, but after COTA, I told Davin (Restivo, Cup engineer) and Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief), I was like, ‘I really don’t think I should run any more road course races in the Xfinity car. It makes me look like a wanker and I lose self-confidence going into Sunday.’

“But I knew that this race track, this is one I can run good at. I’ve run good here my whole career. I don’t know what it is about this place, but I love racing here.”

Even if in a lower series, Almirola hopes the victory can help turn his fortunes around on the Cup side. Since deciding to put off his retirement plans at the end of 2022, he has endured a difficult 2023 campaign with just one top ten and sitting twenty-fifth in points.

“It’s been a really tough year on the Cup side and to come out here and get a win and get to celebrate,” he continued. “My kids came out. We’re going to spend the week in California for our off week and they’re going to get to go to Victory Lane. That is so special. The pictures we have at home with our family in Victory Lane mean the most to me, so I’m so excited to share this Victory Lane here.”

With Ty Gibbs in fourth, the top four were all Cup regulars.

Race results

Finish Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer Laps Status
1 4 28 Aric Almirola* RSS Racing Ford 79 Running
2 5 10 A.J. Allmendinger* Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 79 Running
3 1 17 Kyle Larson* Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 79 Running
4 7 19 Ty Gibbs* Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 79 Running
5 12 48 Parker Kligerman Big Machine Racing Team Chevrolet 79 Running
6 26 00 Cole Custer Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 79 Running
7 2 7 Justin Allgaier JR Motorsports Chevrolet 79 Running
8 13 21 Austin Hill Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 79 Running
9 10 18 Sammy Smith Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 79 Running
10 6 1 Sam Mayer JR Motorsports Chevrolet 79 Running
11 3 2 Sheldon Creed Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 79 Running
12 14 25 Brett Moffitt AM Racing Ford 79 Running
13 8 11 Daniel Hemric Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 79 Running
14 20 16 Chandler Smith Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 79 Running
15 23 98 Riley Herbst Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 79 Running
16 9 20 John Hunter Nemechek Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 79 Running
17 24 51 Jeremy Clements Jeremy Clements Racing Chevrolet 79 Running
18 15 91 Ross Chastain* DGM Racing Chevrolet 79 Running
19 25 36 Josh Bilicki DGM Racing Chevrolet 79 Running
20 27 26 Kaz Grala Sam Hunt Racing Toyota 79 Running
21 28 9 Brandon Jones JR Motorsports Chevrolet 79 Running
22 18 08 Kyle Weatherman SS-Green Light Racing Ford 79 Running
23 32 4 Ty Dillon* JD Motorsports Chevrolet 79 Running
24 33 43 Dylan Lupton Alpha Prime Racing Chevrolet 79 Running
25 11 29 Alex Labbé RSS Racing Ford 79 Running
26 30 27 Jeb Burton Jordan Anderson Racing Chevrolet 79 Running
27 17 07 Daniel Suárez* SS-Green Light Racing Chevrolet 79 Running
28 34 39 Ryan Sieg RSS Racing Ford 79 Running
29 31 53 Brad Pérez Emerling-Gase Motorsports Toyota 79 Running
30 36 02 Blaine Perkins Our Motorsports Chevrolet 79 Running
31 38 38 Joe Graf Jr. RSS Racing Ford 79 Running
32 29 24 Connor Mosack Sam Hunt Racing Toyota 78 Running
33 19 8 Josh Berry JR Motorsports Chevrolet 76 Running
34 21 44 Sage Karam Alpha Prime Racing Chevrolet 71 Transmission
35 22 92 Josh Williams DGM Racing Chevrolet 60 Suspension
36 35 45 Jeffrey Earnhardt Alpha Prime Racing Chevrolet 59 Accident
37 37 78 Anthony Alfredo B.J. McLeod Motorsports Chevrolet 44 Suspension
38 16 31 Parker Retzlaff Jordan Anderson Racing Chevrolet 21 Transmission
DNQ  6 Brennan Poole JD Motorsports Chevrolet  
DNQ  35 Leland Honeyman Jr. Emerling-Gase Motorsports Chevrolet  
DNQ  66 Mason Filippi* MBM Motorsports Ford  
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for points