DARLINGTON, S.C. – A disastrous start to the Goodyear 400 for Stewart-Haas Racing saw two of its four drivers eliminated in vicious crashes prior to lap 100 at Darlington Raceway on Sunday afternoon.
The first SHR pilot to fall by the wayside was Aric Almirola, who found his day cut short on the sixth lap around the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval after a huge front-end impact with the inside wall off turn two due to contact from Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Almirola was checked and released from the infield care center quickly, but somewhat despondent at the continuation of the bad luck that has plagued the first third of his NASCAR Cup Series season.
Through 12 races, Almirola has just one top-10 finish and has failed to finish four times because of crashes, including Sunday’s headliner to the Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR.
“I got wrecked. It’s pretty simple,” said Almirola, whose throwback paint scheme honored Mark Martin’s Winn-Dixie colors from the 2000 NASCAR Xfinity Series season. “We were really fast. We had to start last [due to inspection issues] and we were passing a bunch of cars. We were three-quarters of a second faster than the next 10 to 15 cars in front of us.
“We were passing about one [car] per lap and I got to the 47 [Stenhouse] and passed him in the middle of [turn] one and two, and then at the exit of [turn] two I had to check up just a little bit because I got tight … and he ran right into the back of me and wrecked me.”
Leaving Darlington, Almirola remains 28th in Cup Series points and sits 100 points below the playoff cut line with 14 races to go before the postseason gets underway there in September.
Meanwhile, Almirola’s teammate Cole Custer saw his day come to an end in similar fashion, with a slide into the inside wall off turn two after contact with another car. The damage was very similar, as well.
“They all checked up in front of me and just turned down into me. I didn’t have anywhere to go. It is really frustrating,” Custer noted. “We wanted to give Margaret Haas (team co-owner Gene Haas’ mother) a really good run in our Mother’s Day car. It just didn’t work out for us. We will move on to the next one. We were really looking forward to this race but it didn’t go in our favor.
Custer exited the 12th race of the year two spots ahead of Almirola in points, with both drivers needing a win to put themselves into playoff contention. Neither is likely to crack the postseason on points.
Custer, a California native, added that Sunday’s race – which saw the 750-horsepower, low-downforce package return to The Track Too Tough To Tame for the first time since 2018 – was a battle for drivers across the board.
“It was so slick out there. It was pretty crazy. Really slick,” tipped Custer. “That is the slickest I have ever seen Darlington. We were just struggling. We couldn’t really find the balance on the car.”