The veteran took over the No. 28 Ford Mustang at his favorite road course, and he led 17 of the 79 laps. This was 36 fewer than Kyle Larson, who had the best car in the field, but it ultimately didn’t matter. He led the most important lap and took the team to Victory Lane for the first time in more than 600 races.
“It’s awesome. I’m just really thankful that they allowed me to run this car and to come here and run with this team and these guys and I’m just so proud of everybody’s hard work,” Almirola said after the win.
“Everybody at Sieg Racing. Everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing for the collaboration and I’m just really thankful.”
The interesting thing about this start is that it wasn’t made to gain experience ahead of the Cup Series race. Almirola just wanted to have some fun at his favorite road course. This decision ultimately paid off.
The Turning Point Came With 19 Laps Remaining
Almirola was solid overall during the Xfinity Series race. He started fourth, and he finished inside of the top 10 in the first two stages. However, the situation changed during the final run to the checkered flag.
Larson had built up a lead of more than 13 seconds over AJ Allmendinger after stopping on pit road for what he thought was the final time. However, the caution flew with 19 laps remaining after Jeffrey Earnhardt slid off the track and hit the wall.
The lead-lap cars stopped for fuel and tires while Daniel Suarez and Alex Labbe gambled by staying out. Once the green flag flew on the restart, Almirola jumped to the lead while Suarez received a penalty for a restart violation.
The Florida native continued to hold his spot at the front of the pack while Larson began to steadily chase him down. The 2021 Cup Series champion put himself in a position to strike with eight laps remaining, but he made a rare mistake that ultimately sealed the win for Almirola.
Larson entered Turn 11 right behind his Cup Series peer, but he suddenly veered to the left and toward the wall. As he later explained, he hit the tire bundle that yanked the wheel out of his hand. He also bent the toe link on the No. 17 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, which took away his ability to chase Almirola back down.
“Yeah, it yanked the wheel out of my hand and even after that the toe was bent,” Larson told media members after the race. “So yeah, just was tight to the left after that and then really loose in the right, so it’s really hurt my shot of having any chance.”
SHR Has Delivered Wins for 2 Smaller Organizations
Almirola’s win marked the first for RSS Racing. It also continued a recent trend of Stewart-Haas Racing drivers taking organizations to Victory Lane in the Xfinity Series for the first time.
Cole Custer was the first to achieve this goal. He took over the No. 07 Ford Mustang for SS GreenLight Racing at Auto Club Speedway in 2022, and he delivered a standout performance. He started second overall behind AJ Allmendinger, and he led 80 of the 165 laps before capturing the organization’s first win.
As Almirola explained during his post-race media session, Stewart-Haas Racing has the ability to support these smaller teams in critical ways, as long as they have an affiliation. SHR will “massage the parts” in order to help teams like RSS Racing get the most out of their equipment.
This support can help a team go from 15th place to 10th, and it can help it go from 10th place to fifth. Once a veteran driver like Almirola or Custer gets behind the wheel, they can potentially deliver a breakthrough win.