RICHMOND, Va. — Aric Almirola says he would have done whatever it took on that final restart to move past Matt Kenseth in order to win the Federated Auto Parts 400 and make the Chase for the Championship.
Entering the weekend at Richmond, the only hope Almirola had to make the playoffs was to win and he and crew chief Trent Owens put themselves in position to do just that by restarting third on the final shootout with 17 laps remaining.
But Kenseth appeared to jump the restart, zipping away from both Almirola and second-place Joey Logano, cruising to his fourth victory of the season. Almirola faded back to fourth, where he was at the time of the final caution with 25 laps to go.
But what if Kenseth hadn’t went early; what would Almirola have done to put himself in the Chase if he had restarted better?
“Anything,” Almirola said. “I got a bad restart and the 20 got a really good jump and it caught me by surprise. I hated that it happened because I was certainly going to put the bumper to him because I had nothing to lose.
“I was going for the win. I was willing to do whatever it took but just wasn’t close enough.”
Almirola, who finishes the regular season 16th but out of the Chase, felt Kenseth may have warranted a penalty
“Yeah, he jumped the start,” Almirola said with conviction. “He fired like three or four car lengths before the restart zone, which caught Logano and myself off guard. But he did what he had to do and NASCAR didn’t call him on it and he went on to win the race.
Even though Almirola felt Kenseth jumped the restart, he doesn’t blame him. Almirola admitted that he was time his own jumped restart and was simply caught off guard.
“I laid back and tried to creep up and get a run on him and as I was trying to time it, he fired. He did what he had to do but NASCAR didn’t call it.”
“But it didn’t matter. Those three cars ahead of us (Kyle Busch, Kenseth and Logano of Joe Gibbs Racing) were much faster throughout the race but we were just as fast on the long run. Our weak point was the first 20 or 30 laps of a run and it was 20 lap shootout at the end.”
For his part, Kenseth didn’t deny that he jumped but admitted that it had nothing to do with Almirola but Logano — who had beat him on several restarts throughout the night.
“I wasn’t going to go late,” Kenseth said. “The No. 22 car (Logano) had so much speed on the restart and I just didn’t want to get beat by that again.”
As for Almirola, the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 team will not make the Chase in back-to-back seasons but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t expect to continue challenging for wins.
“I have optimism at every track we go to, to be honest with you,” Almirola said. “We ran good at Chicago last year. We’re going to Dover where we ran top-5 earlier this year. We have some really good tracks coming up.”
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