Almirola Snags Emotional Martinsville Xfinity Win


Aric Almirola celebrates in victory lane Saturday night at Martinsville Speedway. (Ben Earp/Nigel Kinrade Photography)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Aric Almirola had the dominant car in Saturday night’s DUDE Wipes 250 at Martinsville Speedway, but it took some chaos on an overtime restart to seal the deal.

After being moved out of the groove by Sam Mayer with eight laps left and losing control of the race, Almirola regained the top spot when the race went into extra distance, surging around the outside after his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sheldon Creed got into Mayer and made it three-wide in turn one.

From there, Almirola had enough of a gap to cruise into the night over the final two laps, notching his first win as a NASCAR Xfinity Series part-timer since retiring from NASCAR Cup Series racing at the end of last season.

It was Almirola’s fifth career Xfinity Series victory overall, and his first since Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway last June, when he was driving for RSS Racing in an alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Saturday night’s thriller also paid an extra $100,000 to Almirola, who was one of the four eligible Dash 4 Cash drivers and became the 11th driver to win the bonus money by parking in victory lane.

“Man, I am so thankful to Coach (Joe Gibbs) for giving me this opportunity to come back and race for him, and to do it for this organization – the same one I started my career with – it is really awesome to come and play, and that is what I really get to do,” Almirola said. “I get to play, and not a lot of people get to do that and finish their career like this. I’m just really humbled by this moment.

“Our Toyotas are really fast – any one of our cars can win on any given weekend,” Almirola added. “I’m just really thankful for the He Gets Us ministry and all of those people to give me this opportunity to semi-retire … but still get to come out and race when I want to and win races.”


Aric Almirola en route to victory Saturday at Martinsville Speedway. (Jacob Seelman/RFD photo)

Almirola led six times for a race-high 148 laps, including winning stage one, but ceded early control when he pitted during the first stage. That allowed Mayer and his JR Motorsports teammates to flip the stage, staying out under caution and restarting first through fifth in the order.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team led every green-flag lap of the second stage, which was won by Allgaier, but Almirola won the race off pit road during the second stage break and asserted his dominance for much of the second half of the race.

The Tampa, Fla., veteran led 110 of the final 125 laps, with four restarts inside the final 81 laps that challenged the frontrunners and shuffled the deck along the way.

It was a spin by Ryan Sieg with 17 laps left that set up the sequence of events that characterized the final laps, with Almirola in the lead at that point and teammates Chandler Smith and Sheldon Creed close behind him.

Almirola elected the outside for the ensuing restart with 11 to go, after seeing Smith hang with him on an earlier restart at lap 205, but Smith charged turn one deep and shoved Almirola up the racetrack to take the lead away coming to 10 to go.

Almirola returned the favor the next lap, with Smith going wide and allowing Mayer to slide through into second with the fastest car on the racetrack at that point. Mayer went on to close on Almirola’s bumper, giving a shot to the No. 20 that allowed his Chevrolet to assume the point with eight laps left.

A final caution, however, waved with seven to go for a five-car incident on the frontstretch, setting up the overtime restart that decided the race and pushed it one lap beyond its scheduled distance.

Almirola was the beneficiary of contact between Creed – who restarted third – and Mayer on the bottom that put Mayer into the middle lane, allowing Almirola to clear the three-wide situation off turn two and bring his Toyota home from there.

It was a victory that Almirola said afterward “validated” his decision to return to the Xfinity Series and race part-time in equipment he felt he could go out and win races in.

“Performing like this, in my mind, was really important. Everybody just automatically assumes that you are going to win, when you have all the experience in Cup that I have … going back to Xfinity, everybody just assumes if you’re getting in the best cars in the garage that you’re going to win,” Almirola noted. “That is a lot of pressure, so just thankful to be able to work through that and get that checkmark.

“To be able to do it at Martinsville – a place I absolutely love – is special, and now we can try to go win a bunch more.”

Mayer Chandler Smith

Sam Mayer (1) battles Chandler Smith late Saturday night at Martinsville Speedway. (Matthew Thacker/NKP photo)

Through the last-lap shuffling and scrambling, Mayer still came home with a season-best second-place finish, a result he and his team “desperately needed” after two months of bad luck to open the year.

“Man, the restarts here were just ruthless all night,” said Mayer. “It’s painful [to come up short]. Obviously, the 20 [Almirola] was really, really strong today. It was good that I was able to keep up and be as fast as them … and pass all those JGR cars at the end and march up to the front the way we were able to. That’s the first time I’ve done that here and it feels good to have that kind of speed.

“But at the end of the day, we wanted a win bad, and I feel like I got one stolen from me a little bit.”

Smith ended up third, a strong rebound from a practice crash Friday afternoon that forced him to start 37th in the 38-car field. Carson Kvapil ran a strong fourth in his Xfinity Series debut, with Justin Allgaier finishing fifth and giving JR Motorsports three of the top five finishing positions.

Creed, Sammy Smith, Cole Custer, rookie Jesse Love, and Josh Williams completed the top 10.

Saturday night also let Almirola finally dispel a cloud that has hung over him his entire NASCAR career.

In 2007, he won the pole at the Milwaukee (Wis.) Mile and started the race before turning his Rockwell Automation No. 20 over to Denny Hamlin, who arrived to the track late from his Cup Series duties at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway that day.

Hamlin went on to take the checkered flag, but Almirola was credited with the win – his first in the Xfinity Series – as the driver of record. Now, he has an outright Xfinity Series victory for JGR of his own.

“I’ve had an asterisk next to a win for Coach (Joe Gibbs) for 17 years, and this is so awesome to finally put a real win banner up inside the shop at Joe Gibbs Racing that has my name on it,” said Almirola.

Since Almirola is not competing at Texas Motor Speedway, Mayer, Chandler Smith, Allgaier, and Creed will be the four Dash 4 Cash eligible drivers at the 1.5-mile Fort Worth oval.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series season resumes with the Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 at Texas on Saturday, April 13, with live coverage on FS1, the Performance Racing Network, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.

Newsletter Banner

The ultimate entertainment platform for race fans and collectors to collect, buy, sell, and trade digital MP4 collectible racing cards. RFD is designed to give all racers in all series a chance to promote their brand and connect with fans in the digital world


For Race Face Digital merchandise please visit our online store!

Don't forget to follow Race Face Digital on social media.

About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.