Aric Almirola headed to Phoenix Raceway for the NASCAR Cup Series race with the goal of delivering a strong performance. Instead, he dealt with a bizarre tire issue that disrupted his afternoon.
The incident occurred after green flag pit stops in Stage 2. Almirola went hard into the wall at the start-finish line on Lap 138. The wheel then came off his No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang, which brought out the caution. Though the bizarre part was that only part of the wheel was on the track. The rest was still attached to the No. 10 Ford Mustang.
Almirola was able to make it back to pit road, but he had to spend extra time in his stall as the team repaired a damaged toe link. NASCAR then held Almirola for two extra laps as he served a penalty for an improperly-installed wheel. This dropped Almirola well behind the leaders during the final stage.
Radio communication between Almirola and his team initially confirmed that this was not the standard tire installation issue that has led to lost wheels in the past. Instead, they said that the hub had actually broken before Almirola hit the wall.
FOX Sports’ Bob Pockrass actually provided an update after the Cup Series race. He learned from NASCAR officials that “several angles” of the replay showed that the lug nut came off of the car before the wheel broke. He also spoke to Almirola’s crew chief, Drew Blickensderfer, who said that the wheel wasn’t tight.
Another Penalty Remains Possible for Almirola’s Team
NASCAR officials responded to the lost/broken wheel by holding the No. 10 for two laps. This is actually one part of the updated penalty system for wheels lost during race weekends.
There is a possibility that the sanctioning body will issue another penalty ahead of the race weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Two members of the team could also receive a two-race penalty that would sideline them for Atlanta and Circuit of the Americas. Though this will be up to the discretion of NASCAR officials.
The No. 19 team of Joe Gibbs Racing is the only one to receive a penalty for a lost wheel in 2023. Martin Truex Jr.’s Toyota Camry lost a wheel during the second stage at Auto Club Speedway. It occurred on the track, so officials held him for two laps before suspending two crew members for two events.
If Almirola’s team does receive a penalty, there will be another course of action for team owner Tony Stewart. He could appeal the decision and try to get the penalty overturned. Though the update from Pockrass could make this outcome less likely.
There were multiple teams that appealed the lost wheel penalty during the 2022 season. Joe Gibbs Racing and Kaulig Racing were only two examples of teams that made appeals but lost after presenting their case to the appeals panel.
Phoenix Has Been 1 of Almirola’s Stronger Tracks
Almirola has a reputation for being a superspeedway ringer. After all, two of his three career Cup Series wins were at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway. Though he has several strong performances at Phoenix Raceway in his career.
Prior to the 2023 spring race, Almirola had made 24 starts and completed every event. He had an average finish of 14.4 with seven top-10 finishes and two top-fives — a pair of fourth-place finishes in 2018 and 2019.
Almirola was on a run of six consecutive top-20 finishes at Phoenix Raceway entering the 2023 season. However, the broken wheel and the damaged toe link ended this run as he spent the entire final stage five laps behind the leaders.