DOVER, Del. — Aric Almirola isn’t wondering what he did that is keeping the racing gods from allowing him to snap a lengthy winless streak, but he is wondering what it will take to get to victory lane.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver was leading on the final lap of the 2018 Daytona 500 before a block of Austin Dillon sent Almirola to the wall, he led 42 laps at New Hampshire until a slow pit stop relegated him to third and then he was cruising toward the win Sunday at Dover International Speedway until a Clint Bowyer accident with seven laps remaining resulted in a wild finish, with Almirola bouncing off the wall, triggering a crash and finishing 13th.
Almirola, whose sole Cup victory came in July 2014 at Daytona, saw his winless streak extend to 149 races.
“I want to go to victory lane — that’s what I get paid to do, to try to win races,” Almirola said after he led 64 of the 71 laps prior to the Bowyer accident. “I’m frustrated that’s not us over there [in victory lane]. That’s a hard one to swallow. … We’ve just battled some sort of demon that we can’t get past to get to victory lane.
“I don’t know what it is.”
Almirola pitted for tires with six laps remaining and restarted sixth, behind three drivers (eventual race-winner Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr.) who didn’t pit and two drivers (Denny Hamlin and Alex Bowman) who took two tires. In less than a lap, Almirola was bouncing off the wall and clipping Keselowski to trigger a five-car wreck.
“I could have been conservative and probably could have finished third or fourth,” Almirola said. “It’s so hard to pass. On that restart, I tried to at least go to where they weren’t on the top and the 11 [of Hamlin] moved up to block and I got really tight and bounced off the fence and got into Brad and tore up a bunch of race cars.
“I hate that for everybody involved and killed our day, too.”
Almirola teammate Kevin Harvick had led 251 laps at Dover before a pit stop where the valve stem was knocked off the tire forced him to pit under green, leaving Almirola as the car to beat.
“I’m frustrated, mad, angry. … They don’t give trophies for woulda, shoulda, couldas,” Almirola said. “We should have won.”
The 34-year-old Almirola tried to put things in perspective when asked if he felt he done anything to deserve such bad luck.
“I am so grateful for this opportunity,” Almirola said. “I’m a really lucky guy. I could be complaining about running 25th. Instead, I’m complaining about having cars that are capable of winning and not going to victory lane.
“There’s worse problems to have.”