Aric Almirola started the AdvoCare 500 in the 13th position after a solid qualifying effort for the No. 43 team – the 12th time this season they’ve started within the top 15 on the grid.
In the opening laps of Sunday’s night’s race, the driver was able to push the No. 43 AdvoCare Ford up two spots to 11th position before he started reporting that he was losing turn and forward drive. As the track gave up grip over the run, Almirola lost some ground, slipping back to 22nd by Lap 32.
It was around that time that crew chief Mike Ford told his driver he saw smoke coming from the No. 43 machine, and Almirola confirmed he could see and smell it. As the smoke increased, the team was forced to pit on Lap 38 to go under the hood to investigate. The pit crew quickly diagnosed the problem as a cut oil line and was forced to push the car to the garage as the rest of the field went under caution from the fluid on the track. The team was able to repair the problem and get Almirola back on track, but he returned in the 40th position and 28 laps down.
Determined to make the best of the situation and learn what they could, the team pressed on to assess and improve upon the car’s handling with each pit stop. By Lap 122, Almirola was up to 37th and running competitive lap times. Yet he continued to tell his crew chief that he was battling some freeness going into and coming out of the turns and tightness across the center – a condition that worsened over a run. After their third stop of the night on Lap 170, he reported that the car’s handling was not dropping off nearly as much as earlier in the evening, giving him better turn and forward drive longer into a run.
At the half-way mark, Almirola was in 36th position. And even though he wasn’t battling for a top finish, he was running fast laps. In fact, the driver heard Ford tell him multiple times in the second half of the race, “That was the fastest lap on the track.”
The final 75 laps of the race brought some casualties to the 500-mile event – and opportunity for Almirola to improve his finish. With one car blowing an engine and a multi-car wreck knocking out three additional cars, he was able to gain four spots before the checkered flag waved, finishing 32nd. Almirola remains 22nd in the championship standings heading into Richmond next week.
Comments from Almirola after Racing at Atlanta: “The worst part about it was our AdvoCare Ford was actually pretty decent. Looking at the lap times on the race track on comparable tires, we were probably a top-10 car and for sure a top-15 car, but I think we were a top-10 car. We would obviously lay over on the restarts, so we had terrible track position all night after that incident, but our lap times were really good and we seemed to be good on the long runs. It’s a shame to cut an oil line like that. I guess that’s part of it. We had a tie-wrap come loose on one of the oil lines and the oil line flopped over onto the power-steering pulley and cut the line. It started spraying oil everywhere and we had to come in and fix it. I think we’ve had three or four races where bad stuff has happened, so I’m ready for that to be over.”