Sunday looked to be Aric Almirola’s day. He had a fast Farmland Ford all week at Kansas Speedway. He qualified fifth, putting him in the third row to start the Hollywood Casino 400. He had a dominant car that led the field for 69 laps, and all signs pointed to the possibility of him earning his first trip to Victory Lane in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. But he would soon learn the 1.5-mile track had other plans for him, and the caution-filled race would make him one of its victims.
When the green flag flew to start the 267-lap event, the No. 43 Ford Fusion took off, headed for the front. He passed the four cars ahead of him to take the lead by Lap 6 and then left the rest of the field far behind. For the next 24 laps, he enjoyed a sizable lead – as big as half a straight-away – and soon caught up to the rear of the field to begin lapping cars.
Almirola told crew chief Todd Parrott that his Farmland Ford was a little loose through the turns, but that it was gradually tightening up over the run. The caution flag flew for the first of a season-high 14 times on Lap 31, and Parrott brought his driver to pit road for right-side tires and fuel. He restarted in the lead and once again put a huge distance between himself and the rest of the 43-car field by Lap 70, when the third caution of the afternoon came out.
Parrott once again made the call to bring the car to the pits for two right-side tires and two cans of fuel. Jimmie Johnson, who only took one can of fuel, beat Almirola off pit road and assumed the lead for the ensuing restart. Johnson led for the next 40 laps until he had to pit for fuel, peeling off and returning the lead to Almirola on Lap 118.
With the blue Richard Petty Motorsports Ford back out front in clean air, it once again looked like Almirola’s car could dominate the field. But as Parrott and Almirola began to discuss when their next pit stop would be, the right front tire blew on Lap 121, sending Almirola up against the wall.
The hit caused significant damage to the right side of the car, forcing the team to pit multiple times during the ensuing caution to make repairs. But the pit crew’s quick work kept Almirola on the lead lap and he restarted in 27th when the race once again went green. The team continued to work on the car during multiple caution periods over the next 45 laps, making enough improvements and using pit strategy to return Almirola to the top five by Lap 162 and to the second position by Lap 168.
But on Lap 172 while racing for the lead, the No. 43 Fusion spun, fortunately not making any contact to incur further damage. Almirola brought his car to pit road for new tires while the rest of the field stayed green. He lost a lap to the leader while making the pit stop, but the caution flag flew for the ninth time as he returned to the track, giving him the “Lucky Dog” pass to return to the lead lap in 27th position.
The Farmland Ford was still running fast lap times and looked like it could return to the front of the pack once again. Almirola had climbed all the way back up to 13th by Lap 208 and was discussing possible chassis adjustments with Parrott for his next pit stop when the right front tire blew again. The force sent the car into the wall hard, and flames erupted out of the engine. Fortunately, the fire extinguished on its own as Almirola came to a stop on the track, and he was able to climb from the car. The safety crew took him to the infield care center, where he was evaluated and released.
It was a disappoting end to what was the team’s best performance all season. Almirola led the race for 69 laps, a career best for Almirola in the Sprint Cup Series. He was credited with a 29th-place finish and heads to next week’s race at Martinsville still 21st in the driver point standings.
Comments from Almirola after Kansas: “We blew another right front. It was a big hit and I lost my breath there for a minute so I had to collect my thoughts. I am disappointed. I have never in my entire life had a race car that good. It was so fast and so easy to drive. All the guys on this Farmland Ford Fusion did a great job and we just had a really great race car. We were here in Farmland’s headquarters and we were trying really hard to double their money to Harvesters Food Bank if we won. But, we were unable to do that, though not from lack of effort. All the guys worked really hard all weekend and we had a spectacular car. I hate that it ends like this, but I have always been told you have to give a few away before you can win one. I feel like we certainly gave one away today.”