Who would have thought we’d be halfway into the 2021 season and Aric Almirola would be the first driver to score a win for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Yesterday was arguably the best race of the year despite it starting so horribly with the missed call to not bring the cars in under caution when it was raining. NASCAR is going to face enough scrutiny over ruining half of Joe Gibbs Racing’s day; I’d rather not beat that horse to a pulp.
Aric Almirola effectively caused a glitch in the matrix with his win yesterday that resulted in a driver who was sitting 27th in the points making the playoffs. He now has a chance to turn his entire season around and potentially make a deep playoff run.
So, things are going according to plan in NASCAR’s eyes because this presents a load of exciting controversy. The issue is once these guys get into the playoffs, do they have a chance at competing? A guy like Michael McDowell will be a quick out, but Almirola’s stock sits in an odd spot after this win.
What are the realistic chances that Almirola turns around his season and makes a run at a championship?
For the last three seasons, Almirola has celebrated the best years of his career, despite only winning one race in that time. He wasn’t flashy, but whatever he was doing was working, coming as close as 5th in the points standings in 2018.
Despite being what is expected to be his prime, he’s struggled mightily. All of Ford and Stewart-Haas have struggled, but he was the worst of the four drivers. That all has a chance to change now, with yesterday’s win being a season reset. Is New Hampshire just a fluke, or has his team been trending up?
Over the last six races, his average finish has gone up to 12.3. Along with Ford as a whole, Almirola has been trending up to his credit. He hasn’t been on the verge of a win though, so I think that New Hampshire was an oddity.
While I do not believe he is a championship-caliber driver, this new playoff system does allow for some wildcards to make a deep playoff run as he did in 2018, but I don’t think that’s what we’ll see this year. His season has been so terrible that I don’t see how a driver of his caliber can make such an amazing turnaround. The team’s issues and his issues might take days off, but I don’t believe they have the resolve to do a complete 180.
I’m not even 100% sure that Almirola will end up making it out of the first round. Darlington, Richmond, and Bristol are tracks that he struggles with. So, once he’s in the playoffs, I think some of their struggles will start to rear their ugly heads and throw off their momentum.
What yesterday’s win and a more consistent rest of the season can do for Almirola is keep him in his current ride. If he can do enough to keep SHR and Smithfield on the hook, then he can take this late-season surge over into the next and hopefully go into it with confidence.What