DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Driving in his debut event for Stewart-Haas Racing last year, Aric Almirola had the lead roughly a mile from the finish line.
But as he approached Turn 3 at Daytona International Speedway and tried to block a run by Austin Dillon, contact between Dillon’s No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and Almirola’s No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion sent Almirola into the outside wall and Dillon into Victory Lane.
Under the circumstances, Almirola was extraordinarily gracious after the fact, defusing what could have been a volatile situation between the two drivers.
That’s not to say, however, that Almirola didn’t have a few private moments of anger and frustration.
“Did I ever have a moment where behind closed doors I stomped my feet and hit some things?” Almirola asked rhetorically on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. “Maybe,” he acknowledged with a mischievous grin.
But his behavior in public was far more measured and diplomatic.
“In that time, in that moment, it was more important for me to go out and be a good representation for my sponsors and my partners and my kids,” Almirola said. “My kids were sitting back in my motor home watching on TV like the rest of the world, so at that time it was an opportunity for me to be a good role model for my kids.
“You’ve got to be a good sport, and sometimes things don’t always go your way. You’ve got two choices. You can either keep your head high and take the high road, or you can pout and piss and moan—and the sponsors usually like the first one.”
TEAM PREVIEW: 2019 outlook for Stewart-Haas Racing
Almirola didn’t win the Daytona 500, but he eventually found Victory Lane with Stewart-Haas in the last restrictor-plate race of 2018 at Talladega. With the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars featuring the same specs for the Daytona 500, Almirola is optimistic about his chances this year—if he can just complete the last mile in the lead.