By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
It would have been very easy for Aric Almirola to fold under the pressure of losing his ride in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but that’s just not his style.
As you may or may not know Almirola’s career path has had several bumps in the road, yet along the way there has been no denying that his talent always shines brightest when it’s go time.
In 2005 Almirola raced sparingly in the Camping World Truck Series, but two top-10 finishes in just four starts that season led to a full-time opportunity in the Series in 2006 along with a part-time ride in Joe Gibbs Racing’s Nationwide Series car.
In 2007 Almirola was able to capture his first piece of hardware in NASCAR when he captured his first career Nationwide Series victory, however the win came in heartbreaking fashion. Almirola qualified on the pole in the AT&T 250 at Milwaukie and actually led the first 43 laps of the event. It appeared that Almirola was on his way to an impressive finish or a victory.
Then Denny Hamlin showed up. Hamlin was scheduled to drive the car, but his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule had interfered on the given weekend. However on lap 53 Joe Gibbs and the team decided to pull Almirola from the car. Hamlin would power from the back of the pack after the driver change to win the race, but Almirola would get the credit because he started the race.
This victory obviously pained Almirola more than it brought joy, as he felt he could of won the race himself. However that performance along with three poles in the 2007 Nationwide Series season led to a new opportunity for Almirola.
The 26-year-old Tampa, Florida native had now fought his way all the way to NASCAR’s top series, yet after just 26 starts funding dried up at Dale Earnhardt Inc. and it appeared the future had become Almirola’s past.
However in 2009 Almirola teamed up with Billy Ballew Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series. He impressed many with his consistency, and when Kyle Busch announced that he was starting his own Truck Series team in 2010, Ballew’s top truck was vacant. Almirola decided to fill that vacancy and run the entire 2010 Camping World Truck Series campaign.
This has turned out to be the best move Almirola could have possibly made in his career revival.
The worst that Almirola has finished all season long through nine races in 2010 is 12th twice. Other than those two 12th-place showings, he has finished in the top-10 in every other race. Not only that, but in the sixth race of the year Almirola was finally able to drive into victory lane himself for the first time in his NASCAR career at Dover.
Almirola wouldn’t stop there. He thrilled fans this week with an incredible three-wide pass for the lead on Todd Bodine and Kyle Busch late in the VFW 200 at Michigan, and he found himself in victory lane yet again as a result.The pass for the lead was a surprise considering Almirola hadn’t fought for the lead all day long. Todd Bodine was very impressed with Almirola’s move after the race.
“Maybe it caught me a little off guard,” Bodine said of Almirola’s pass for the lead. “Aric’s a hell of a racer, and they had a good truck when it counted.”
Let’s not forget that even though he has been driving in the NASCAR’s “big three” series since 2005, he has only had the opportunity to run one full season in his entire career to this point!
2010 will mark the second time that Almirola has competed for a full season in a NASCAR Series, and I’d say he’s not doing too shabby. The future is extremely bright yet again for Almirola, even after it looked so dark just months ago.
Aric Almirola now sits second in the point standings just 55 points behind Todd Bodine in the Camping World Truck Series. His performance has led to him being tabbed by Jimmie Johnson to fill in for him, if he has to miss a race in July due to the birth of his first child. So he has shown yet again that he has what it takes to drive for a top tier team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The only question now is who will give Almirola the opportunity to show what he can do in the Sprint Cup Series full-time? I don’t think we’ll be waiting long for that answer.