October 16, 2017
Richard Petty Motorsports
Alabama 500 Race Report
Alabama 500 Race Results:
1: Brad Keselowski
5: Aric Almirola, No. 43 Smithfield Ford
The No. 43 Smithfield Ford team solidified a great superspeedway track record for the 2017 season. After fourth-place finishes at Daytona and Talladega for Aric Almirola and a 15th for Bubba Wallace filing in for Almirola at Daytona, the team set their sights on a good finish at the final superspeedway race of the season. Almirola started from the 26th spot but was confident in his Ford Fusion in the draft. He quickly worked the middle lane and raced as high as 15th before the team elected to pit under green on Lap 14 for a fuel-only pit stop. By Lap 27, an incident on the frontstretch brought out the first caution of the day. With extra time under caution, the team made a pit stop for four tires. At the drop of the green, Almirola hooked up with the No. 88 and 18 and drove back into the Top-15. A caution on Lap 52 allowed the team to get four fresh tires. Teams had a one lap shootout to finish the first stage, and the No. 43 held the 23rd spot.
Almirola stayed on track and saved fuel for the start of the second stage. He restarted 11th. Almirola worked the draft to test out his car for the end and made a fuel only stop under green before debris brought out the caution on Lap 82. The splitter rubbed on the last run, so the team made a four-tire pit stop and adjusted the splitter height. Almirola returned to the track and raced toward the back to stay out of trouble in the final 23 laps of Stage Two, anticipating it would get dicey. He finished the stage in the 23rd spot.
Readying for the final stage and a run for a good finish, the No. 43 Smithfield Ford team restarted 29th. The team made another green-flag pit stop, this time for two right-side tires and fuel before the No. 6 car caused a caution on Lap 153. After losing the draft during the last run, the caution came at a great time. The tearoff from the previous stop left a residue on the windshield that made it difficult to see, so the team pit for fuel and to pull another tearoff. Almirola restarted 31st on Lap 155. A wreck one lap later caused damage to the No. 43, and the team had to pit to fix it. The body damage was fixable but did cause a vibration in the car for the remainder of the race.
The final 30 laps saw three incidents that damaged 24 cars and forced three red flags. Almirola and Spotter Joel Edmonds maneuvered their way around all three wrecks that happened in front of the No. 43 Smithfield Ford. With the vibration not worsening, the team elected to stay out for each of the last three cautions and worked up to the sixth spot for the final restart. With just 13 cars on the lead lap at the final restart, Almirola knew he had to team up with his Ford Performance teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. As the cars jockeyed for position, Almirola drove as high as third. In the final lap, he found the bumper of the No. 22 and made a run for the lead. Racing three-wide, contact with another car sent the No. 43 Ford into the wall as it crossed the finishline. Almirola scored his third Top-Five finish of three superspeedway races with a fifth-place finish.
“That was exciting; the whole race was exciting,” said Almirola. “Right there at the end, I was really committed to making sure that we got a Blue Oval to Victory Lane. I was kind of watching the 2 and the 22, and we were all kind of trying to work together. My car had some damage on it from earlier in the race, and I knew my car wasn’t probably good enough to lead, but if I could have done something right there at the end, we might have been able to pull one off. But, nonetheless, we were able to get a Blue Oval to Victory Lane. It’s great for everybody at Ford and cool to see Brad win. He’s obviously been really successful here at Talladega, but I honestly thought for a minute there we might have a shot at it. Some things just didn’t work out going down the back straightaway. I really just picked my way through wrecks, just kind of sensing that the energy of the pack was really high and knowing that all hell was gonna break loose at some point and just being prepared for that. We were fortunate to be able to miss some wrecks. Unfortunately, we got in a wreck right there coming to the checkered, but, all in all, it was a solid finish for us and I’m proud to run up front. That’s cool. We finished Top-Five in all three speedway races I ran. We had a fifth and two fourths, so I’m proud of that.”