Everybody was ready to award the trophy of Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series DoorDash 250 at Sonoma Raceway to Kyle Larson and the No. 17 Hendrick Motorsports team. Larson had dominated the field through practice, qualifying and in Saturday’s race.
Larson had a 13.5 second lead on the field at lap 60. But there is a reason we run every race to the checkered flag before we hand out a trophy. And Aric Almirola proved why on Saturday as he scored a shocking win after he held off two of the best in the business at Sonoma — AJ Allmendinger and Larson — in the closing laps.
After climbing from the No. 28 RSS Racing Ford Mustang, Almirola was beside himself with joy, as he had nearly decided to cut out all extra-curricular racing on road courses in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
“Oh man, this is so special. It’s hard to explain,” Almirola stated with a smile. “I know it’s an Xfinity win, it’s not a Cup win, but after COTA, I told Davin and Drew that I don’t think I should run anymore road course races in the Xfinity car. It just makes me look like a wanker, and I lose self confidence heading into Sunday. But I knew this race track, this is one I can run good at. I’ve run good here my whole career, I don’t know what it is about this place, but I love racing here.”
While Almirola’s victory will count as the first-ever win for RSS Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Almirola also credited his NASCAR Cup Series team Stewart-Haas Racing as they helped prepare the car for RSS and Almirola for this weekend.
“Just so thankful for everybody on this race team. Everybody at SHR in the Xfinity shop. They take on a lot, not only to bring their two cars to the race track, but to bring a third car,” Almirola stated.
For Almirola, it’s been a trying season. But this win, while it came in the Xfinity Series, breathes new life into him. The Tampa, Florida native will spend his off week in California with his family, and they’ll celebrate this win.
“It’s been a really tough year on the Cup side. And to come out here and get a win and get to celebrate. My kids came out, we’re going to spend the week in California on our off week, and they’re going to get to go to victory lane. That is so special,” Almirola stated with emotion. “The pictures we have at home of our family in victory lane mean the most to me.”
So, how did Almirola snag the lead with 15 laps remaining in Saturday’s race? Jeffrey Earnhardt went for a spin into the tire barrier in Turn 10 on lap 61 to bring out the caution. This erased Larson’s 13.5 second lead, and Larson lost the lead by way of pit strategy.
Almirola and the No. 28 team opted to stay out, and gain track position in hopes that they could steal a win. Ultimately, the gamble paid off.
But even after inheriting the lead, Almirola stood very little chance in holding off Larson — the dominant car of the race. But Larson, while attempting to get by Almirola, made a mistake and clipped the tire stacks in Turn 11.
“I just got too greedy,” Larson explained after the race. “If you can get your rights below the rumbles and into the paint, it’s a lot of grip. I got it good a couple of times, and then yeah I was just tucked in behind him, clipped the tire, knocked the wheel out of my hand. And then after that, the toe was off. I was really tight in the lefts and really loose in the rights and couldn’t make runs at it.”
Larson is mad at himself for squandering another possible win for the part-time No. 17 Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR Xfinity Series effort, but Larson also took his hat off to Almirola for being as perfect as he needed to be down the stretch.
“I just hate it for Kevin Meendering and everybody. They deserve a win so badly with this No. 17 car. Between all of us, we’ve all found a way to lose,” Larson chuckled through the pain. “Just really mad at myself right now, but proud of the car that they brought, and congrats to Aric too. He did a really great job out in front of me hitting his marks.”
Larson would fade down the stretch to finish third behind AJ Allmendinger, who worked his way to second in the closing laps.
Ty Gibbs would finish the race in fourth, and Parker Kligerman would get a hard-fought top-five finish.
Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier, Austin Hill, Sammy Smith, and Sam Mayer would round out the top-10 finishers in Saturday’s race.