Aric Almirola was a half-lap from winning the Daytona 500 in his first race with new team Stewart-Haas Racing — that is, until Austin Dillon turned him while battling for the lead.
So was Almirola pissed at Dillon for driving through him? Was Dillon being too aggressive?
Almirola let out a “Ha!” when I asked, as if that was a ridiculous question.
“He’s not driving too aggressively, he’s trying to win the Daytona 500 — just like I was,” Almirola said. “I saw him come with the momentum and I pulled up to block and did exactly what I needed to do to try and win the Daytona 500. I wasn’t going to just let him have it.
“I wasn’t going to stay on the bottom and let him rail the outside, so I blocked, and he got to my bumper and pushed. I thought I was still going to be OK, and somehow I got hooked. I’m just devastated.”
Almirola said if it was Lap 5 of the race, “I probably wouldn’t have pulled that block.”
“But it was the last lap of the Daytona 500, and I was doing everything I could to try and win,” he added.
Almirola was still managing to smile because he feels like he’ll have a chance to win other races this season now that he’s with SHR.
Tony Stewart came into the infield care center and gave Almirola a big hug. He told the driver: “The good news is, we have a lot more of this (running well) to look forward to.”
“This is just one race,” Almirola said. “This is might be the biggest race, and this is going to hurt for awhile. But next week, I think we’ll have another shot.”