Almirola’s name is the first among this season’s race winners that might not have been on a consensus list of drivers likely to take a checkered flag and therefore to make the Chase.
During Sunday’s extended rain delay, with his No. 43 Ford sitting first in a severely depleted field, Aric Almirola said he resorted to some “hard-core praying.”
Sure enough, whether by providence or coincidence, the heavens opened up, drenched the asphalt at Daytona International Speedway and made a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner of Almirola for the first time in his career.
Now that he has a victory in hand, Almirola should avail himself of the power of positive thinking where the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is concerned—not that he needs much help. At this point, it would take a miracle for the Richard Petty Motorsports driver to miss out on NASCAR’s 10-race playoff.
Simply by winning a race, Almirola changed the course of his entire season and perhaps of his entire career.
And he knew it.
As he stepped into the winner’s circle, the concerns that had been haunting Almirola and his team before Sunday suddenly seemed a lot less relevant.
“We were just talking in Victory Lane,” Almirola said after the race. “We've been fretting over the fact that, man, if we wouldn't have wrecked here, and if we wouldn't have wrecked here and if we wouldn't have wrecked here, and we wouldn't have had this happen, we'd probably be like 11th or 12th in points.
“Well, you can't go back and you can't fix that, but this fixes everything.”
In all honesty, Almirola’s name is the first among this season’s race winners that might not have been on a consensus list of drivers likely to take a checkered flag and therefore to make the Chase.
But his victory only served to underscore the remarks of NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France from a day earlier.
“I think we can all see the benefits of changing the winning importance, and it, in fact, has changed the racing on the track,” France said. “There's no question about it. The drivers are telling us that. They're taking different kind of chances.
“They're going for wins when they would have played it safe otherwise. And I think that's just going to get more intense as we close in on Richmond, and we seed the field (for the Chase).”
Or as Almirola put it, winning “fixes everything.”
And though he and his Richard Petty Motorsports team may be loath to lay claim to a Chase spot before it’s a mathematical certainty, winning, for practical purposes, has fixed that, too.
Currently, Almirola is 21st in the Sprint Cup standings, three positions and 30 points ahead of Kurt Busch, who is lowest-ranked among the 11 drivers with victories this season.
In order for Almirola to miss the Chase, in the most clear-cut way, six more different drivers who are currently winless would have to go to Victory Lane in the span of the next eight races, and Almirola would have to fall to last in the standings among drivers who have a win.
The odds against that are long. The odds against any other scenario that would exclude Almirola are even longer.
Accordingly, the last thing Almirola should be doing right now, in the wake of his breakthrough Daytona victory, is worrying about making the Chase.
On the contrary, he should be preparing for it.
Reid Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service