DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The first race with his new Stewart-Haas Racing team nearly put Aric Almirola on the historic list of Daytona 500 winners. Instead, he joined a far less pleasing one — those who lost the Daytona 500 via a last-lap pass.
Almirola was running first and in the clear when the white flag dropped, but a late freight-train in the form of Austin Dillon and Darrell Wallace Jr. caught Almirola’s No. 10 down the stretch. Dillon put pressure on the outside, Almirola attempted to block and Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet sent him spinning.
Almirola would finish 11th.
“My heart is broken,” he said after the race. “… It was the last lap and we’re all trying to win the Daytona 500. It’s the biggest race of the year and it’s a career-changing race, so we were just racing really aggressively. I put every move I knew to try and stay in the lead and, unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to hold on.
“He got to my back bumper and was pushing, and just hooked me.”
Dillon, meanwhile, celebrated in Victory Lane and attributed the ending to simple superspeedway racing.
“I had a ton of momentum, caught him and turned him,” Dillon said. “He should do the same thing to me in the same situation.”
Almirola, meanwhile, said he had no qualms with Dillon’s late-race aggression.
“He’s not driving too aggressively, he’s trying to win the Daytona 500 just like I was,” Almirola said. “I saw him come with the momentum and I pulled up to block and did exactly what I needed to do to try to win the Daytona 500. I wasn’t gonna just let him have it. I wasn’t gonna just stay on the bottom and let him rail the outside, so I blocked and he got to my bumper and pushed. I thought I was still gonna be OK, and somehow I got hooked.
“I’m really devastated, but … I’m not gonna let that get me down. We’ve got an incredible race team. This one is gonna hurt for a while, but I think next week we’ll have another shot.”