E.A. Sports Today

No asterisks

Almirola crosses the finish at Talladega free and clear to claim his third Xfinity victory

Aric Almirola pulls himself out of his car in Victory Lane after winning the Sparks Energy 300 Xfinity race at Talladega Saturday. (All photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA — Aric Almirola finally has an Xfinity Series victory he could actually enjoy.

Almirola scored his third career win in the series Saturday when he crossed the finish line free and clear in the Sparks Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway.

No cautions, no driver change, no asterisk. This one was all Almirola.

He used a push from Joey Logano to take the lead with three laps to go and then held off Elliott Sadler at the finish with all kinds of mayhem going on behind him.

“This one was ours fair and square,” Almirola said. “We led a lot of laps. We won the first stage and we got out there at the end. There was no caution at the end and we were ahead at the caution or anything like that. We crossed the start-finish line first and those are the most gratifying to win.

“This one there was no doubt, right. The 98 car passes the start-finish line before all the other cars. That was a great way to win.”

Neither of his first two Xfinity wins felt much like victories. He got his first in Milwaukee in 2007, but it never felt like a win. He put the car on the pole, drove it into the lead, yet wasn’t in the machine at the end but was credited with the win because he started the race. Then last July he won at Daytona, but only because he was out front when caution came out on the last lap.

And he almost didn’t get it this time. After leading the first stage of the race, he had some confusion getting on pit road and lost the draft, but got his chance to contend back through a caution with 14 laps to go.

Then, as he was streaking to the finish, cars were crashing and collecting behind him. Had the caution flag come out at that point, Logano would have won the race.

“I was really worried the caution was going to come out especially when the 22 (Logano) just barely got a nose ahead getting into Turn 3,” Almirola said. “I was like, ‘C’mon, please, please don’t throw that caution,’ because I wanted to at least have a shot for us to race back to the start-finish line. I was aware (of what was happening behind him) and I was glad NASCAR let us race back.”

It’s a chance he never got in Milwaukee. He did everything required to put the car in position, but midway through the race Denny Hamlin arrived at the track after practicing his Sprint Cup car at Sonoma. A sponsor insisted on Hamlin getting in the car and it was Hamlin who drove it to the checkered.

Almirola declined to recount the circumstances surrounding the Milwaukee race before heading out for Cup qualifying. “You can go back and review tape on that,” he said.

Multi-car crashes at the end of each stage stopped the race for a total nearly 21 minutes.

A wrecker pulls the mangled remains of Spencer Gallagher Jr.’s car off the track after the first big wreck of Saturday’s Sparks Energy 300.

Race runner-up Elliott Sadler (1) closes on Ben Kennedy (2) and Justin Allgaier at Talladega Superspeedway. Sadler said a mistake on the last lap likely cost him the victory.

To see a gallery of B.J. Franklin photos from the Sparks Energy 300 go to www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

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