Aric Almirola comes into the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at the Brickyard with all of the momentum in the world. Over the last four races, Almirola has finished fifth at Homestead, third at Talladega (while spinning backwards across the line), third at Pocono and fifth at Pocono.
We’re not even half way through the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series campaign and Almirola, 36, has already tied his career-best for top-five finishes in a season (four). That stat is even crazier when you factor in that all four of Almirola’s top-five finishes have come in the last four races.
Heading into 2020, the Florida-native had never scored back-to-back top-five finishes, let alone back-to-back-to-back-to-back top-fives.
It seems as though Almirola has been the largest benefactor of an offseason crew chief swap at Stewart-Haas Racing, which sent Mike Bugarewicz to his No. 10 team. Now, the driver sits ninth in the championship standings after 15 races.
After 15 races last season, Almirola had just one top-five finish (a fourth-place effort at Phoenix) and he was 11th in the Cup Series championship standings.
But the true test of how improved Almirola and the No. 10 SHR team are this season, will come this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
IMS is one of just three tracks on the circuit that Almirola has never scored a top-10 finish at and overall, he has the second-lowest average finish at IMS than any other track on the schedule. Additionally, the 2.5-mile speedway in Indiana usually is a pretty good indicator of who will be competing for a championship.
Nine of the 26 winners in the history of this event have gone on to win the Cup Series championship in the same season, and three of the last six winners have gone on to make it into the Championship 4. If Almirola can keep the momentum going for another good run on Sunday, it could be a telling sign that he’s a much more serious championship contender than we’ve seen in his previous eight full-time seasons.
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.