| The Daytona Beach News-Journal
Aric Almirola knows what it’s like to lose a Super Bowl.
Just three years ago, the Stewart-Haas veteran was half a lap away from winning the Daytona 500 when he was wrecked by Austin Dillon going into Turn 3.
Dillon went on to win NASCAR’s Super Bowl, while Almirola was left with a mangled car and a bruised ego.
“I’ve buried that deep, deep down in my soul,” he said with a laugh, “but it seems like every year around this time I always get asked to dig it back up. So my goal this year is to go down to Daytona and win the 500 so I never have to talk about it again.”
Perhaps the 36-year-old will have even more motivation this time next week … assuming things go to plan on Sunday.
Almirola is a die-hard Tampa Bay sports fan. He grew up two miles from Raymond James Stadium, and his family had season tickets dating back to the old creamsicle uniform days.
Before heading to Daytona to start his 14th Cup season, Almirola will spend Sunday with the family in North Carolina, watching as Tom Brady tries to win Super Bowl No. 7 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
This will be the third championship game appearance for a Tampa team in the past six months, with the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup in September and the Rays losing to the Dodgers in the World Series the next month.
“I’m excited about this one, but it’s going to be a tough game,” Almirola said. “I think Tom Brady, already having one look at them earlier this year, and now having more time to jell with his offense, I think it’ll be a great game.”
Brady and the Bucs have certainly jelled, going 7-0 since losing to the Chiefs on Nov. 29.
Almirola believes he’s also starting to figure it out with his No. 10 team as he enters his fourth year at Stewart-Haas.
The Tampa native posted career-highs in laps led (305), top-5s (6) and top-10s (18) last season, and he made the playoffs for the third straight year.
The elephant in the room? A two-year winless streak that dates back to Talladega in Oct. 2018.
“We’ve got fast race cars,” Almirola said earlier this week. “We’ve got to continue to bring really fast Mustangs to the racetrack, and then from that point really it’s about just executing. I know you probably hear that from 39 other drivers, but it’s true.”
Executing on super speedways is something Almirola does as good as anyone on the track. His two career wins have come at Talladega and Daytona (in the 2014 Coke Zero Sugar 400), and he’s an Austin Dillon shove away from being a Daytona 500 champion.
Like Brady against an NFL defense, Almirola said the secret to success has been his ability to adapt, and anticipate.
“It really is a high-speed chess match,” he said of racing at Daytona. “You’re constantly weighing out your risk vs. reward … you’re always thinking about your next move. Fortunately, I’ve more often than not found myself in position to win these superspeedway races when it comes down to the end.”
That’s the plan next week, too. But before getting to NASCAR’s Super Bowl, Almirola said, all eyes will be on Brady and the Bucs.
“And then I’ll be on deck,” he added with a smile. “I’ve got to step up and keep it going to Tampa sports. It would be really cool for me to go down to Daytona and win the biggest stock-car race of the year and keep titletown going.”