Aric Almirola will no longer be a full-time driver once the checkered flag drops at Phoenix Raceway in November.
Will it be his final attempt to win “The Great American Race” as he prepares to begin his last NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday at the Daytona 500?
No one knows. Including him.
“You never know what the future holds,” Almirola said this week after mentioning he may need a “hall pass” from wife, Janice, and their children.
“I came down here before thinking that it could be my last in years past, like when you don’t have a contract going past that year.
“You never really know when it is gonna be your last Daytona 500. I got my eyes open to that. When I wrecked at Kansas and broke my back, I wasn’t sure if that was gonna be the end of my career there as well.”
As a driver of Stewart-Haas Racing since that incident, Almirola has become a frequent in the Cup Series playoffs. Last season, he made the playoffs for the fourth time in a row with an upset victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July.
Almirola intends to keep that run continuing in 2022 with a new team leader, Drew Blickensderfer. Especially if it means racking up several victories, which he hasn’t done in a Cup season before.
Almirola, on the other hand, wants to make the most of his final full-time season.
“I could show you my itinerary for the Daytona 500 Speedweek this week and literally, my schedule is broken down into a minute-by-minute schedule,” he explained. “So I just reminded myself driving through the tunnel (Tuesday) morning like, ‘Slow down. Take it all in. Embrace it.’
“What we get to do is incredible. I get to drive a race car for a living, and I’m tremendously blessed to do that. It’s one thing to say it, but it’s another thing to kind of slow down and kind of embrace it and live it, and that’s kind of my goal for this week and going into this year.”
He claims he isn’t thinking about his near-miss at the “500” in 2018.
Almirola came out on top in overtime and was in command at the checkered flag in that race. However, on the final lap, Austin Dillon collided with the Turn 3 wall resulting from contact from behind. Dillon went on to win the competition.
While the Florida native would love to have a “500” win on his record, he already has multiple Daytona titles.
In 2014, he won his first Cup race of his career at Daytona. He won the Xfinity Series there two years later. He also won the Daytona Duel last year.
He was ecstatic each time he won at the circuit where he had grown up watching competitions with his family, including his grandfather, former sprint car driver Sam Rodriguez.
That feeling meant considerably more to him.
“I know where Victory Lane is,” he said. “I’m very familiar with it, but I’ve not won a Daytona 500 and it would be very special.
“But at the end of the day, trophies collect dust, and I don’t put all my stock and all my weight in being a Daytona 500 champion.”
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