On Saturday, Aric Almirola announced he will retire from full-time NASCAR Cup Series racing at the end of 2023. He had an opportunity for a storybook ending the following day when he took the lead with less than 100 laps remaining at Martinsville Speedway, but Ryan Blaney had other plans.
Blaney, racing on newer tyres, passed Almirola with twenty-three laps left to secure his career-tying third win of the year and assure himself of spot in the Championship Round. It will be his first appearance in the final round.
He was already ten points above the cut line entering Martinsville, but the victory locked him into the finale alongside the already-clinched Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell. William Byron also qualified on points.
“The last twenty laps, all that goes through your head is there’s going to be a yellow, there’s going to be a yellow, it’s going to screw up the whole race, people are going to stay out, people are going to take no tyres, there’s going to be four cautions to end this thing. Hopefully you don’t get moved, spun, wrecked, ruin your year,” recounted Blaney. “That’s the only thing going through your head, right?
“Just get to the white was the only thing that really concerned me at the time. Running down the #10, I was running harder. I think everyone just kind of fell off pretty good, and I saved my stuff early where I could get through traffic pretty good. It benefited us later in the run.”
Almirola took the lead from Chase Elliott on lap 412 while running an alternate pit strategy that placed him on older tyres and less fuel than others, though he had enough to complete the race. Unfortunately for him, Blaney quickly closed in before passing him. Larson used a similar strategy and finished sixth.
While the runner-up finish is his best of the season, it was surely a letdown as he hoped to go out on a strong note. Next Sunday’s season finale at Phoenix will be his final opportunity to end his full-time career with at least a strong performance.
“Honestly, I’m just sad,” Almirola admitted. “We had a good car. We just fought track position. Qualifying kind of set us behind and then when we finally cycled to the front and got track position we had a great race car. I was being so patient and taking care of my tyres. I wasn’t slipping a tyre. I wasn’t doing anything to hurt my tyres and they just started to give up on me there towards the end, and the #12, his car would hold on a little longer. I’m not sure if he was on four tires or two tires. We were on two tires with some pretty old lefts, so I don’t know if that was the difference or not.
“I’m just really proud and really proud of this team. I wanted that one so bad. I got my family here. My grandparents here that helped me get my start in racing. I wanted so bad to celebrate with my family in Victory Lane.”
Despite finishing third, Denny Hamlin‘s search for his first championship will have to wait another year as he was eliminated as were Chris Buescher, Martin Truex Jr., and Tyler Reddick. Truex won the pole for Martinsville but his title hopes came undone by a speeding penalty. Elliott’s #9 was knocked out of the owner playoffs, meaning the final four in Phoenix for that championship is the same as on the driver’s side.
|1||11||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||500||Running|
|2||12||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||500||Running|
|3||4||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe GIbbs Racing||Toyota||500||Running|
|4||3||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||500||Running|
|5||15||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||500||Running|
|6||5||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||500||Running|
|7||7||20||Christopher Bell||Joe GIbbs Racing||Toyota||500||Running|
|8||18||17||Chris Buescher||RFK Racing||Ford||500||Running|
|9||21||2||Austin Cindric||Team Penske||Ford||500||Running|
|10||17||38||Todd Gilliland||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||500||Running|
|11||6||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||500||Running|
|12||1||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe GIbbs Racing||Toyota||500||Running|
|13||16||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||499||Running|
|14||13||1||Ross Chastain||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||499||Running|
|15||28||21||Harrison Burton||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||499||Running|
|16||8||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||499||Running|
|17||14||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||499||Running|
|18||2||54||Ty Gibbs||Joe GIbbs Racing||Toyota||499||Running|
|19||20||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||499||Running|
|20||9||41||Ryan Preece||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||499||Running|
|21||29||43||Erik Jones||Legacy Motor Club||Chevrolet||499||Running|
|22||30||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||499||Running|
|23||26||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||499||Running|
|24||34||77||Ty Dillon||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||499||Running|
|25||23||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||499||Running|
|26||19||45||Tyler Reddick||23XI Racing||Toyota||498||Running|
|27||31||8||Kyle Busch||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||498||Running|
|28||25||16||A.J. Allmendinger||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||498||Running|
|29||33||51||Ryan Newman*||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||497||Running|
|30||24||31||Justin Haley||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||497||Running|
|31||32||42||Carson Hocevar*||Legacy Motor Club||Chevrolet||496||Running|
|32||22||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||496||Running|
|33||10||6||Brad Keselowski||RFK Racing||Ford||306||Running|
|34||27||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||274||DVP|
|35||35||15||J.J. Yeley*||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||271||Accident|
|36||36||78||B.J. McLeod*||Live Fast Motorsports||Chevrolet||147||Overheating|
Underline – Eliminated from playoffs
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for points