NASCAR: Aric Almirola has officially achieved his goal

Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

In late June, Aric Almirola said his goal was to make the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway “not matter”. He has done just that.

Following the first race of a NASCAR Cup Series doubleheader race weekend at Pocono Raceway in late June that saw him record two top five finishes to extend his top five finish streak to a career-high four races, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola wasn’t too unsatisfied that he hadn’t yet been to victory lane this year.

Almirola, who hasn’t won a race since he was victorious at Talladega Superspeedway after leading only the final lap back in October of 2018, said that his goal at the beginning of the season wasn’t necessarily to win, but to make the regular season finale “not matter”, and he has been in position to do that for much of the year.

The regular season finale was moved from Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Daytona International Speedway this season, ending Daytona’s long-standing tradition of hosting a race on Independence Day weekend.

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As we all know very well, the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) high-banked oval in Daytona Beach, Florida has a habit of producing upset winners, based on the close nature of superspeedway racing and the threat of the “Big One”.

An upset winner in the regular season finale would move the playoff cut line up by one position. In the case of 2020, the cut line to get into the 16-driver playoffs currently sits between the drivers who rank 14th and 15th in points, since two upset winners have already emerged this year (18th place Austin Dillon of Richard Childress Racing and 19th place Cole Custer of Stewart-Haas Racing).

With an upset winner at Daytona, that cut line would move up to between the drivers in 13th and 14th place.

Here is what Almirola had to say back in late June.

"“One of the things I told [crew chief Mike Bugarewicz] right from the very beginning of the season is my goal is for Daytona to not matter. I want to go to Daytona and not be in a pressure situation where you got to out-point somebody or you got to just be careful or any of those things. My goal is to win so that Daytona won’t matter and we’ll be locked in the Playoffs. If we don’t win, to have a big enough points gap that Daytona won’t matter.”"

Now he has achieved this goal, as he has secured his playoff berth with only the regular season finale remaining.

The playoff cut line currently sits between Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron (632 points) and Jimmie Johnson (628). Almirola sits in eighth place in the point standings, ahead of that cut line by 112 points.

Even if an upset driver were to emerge at Daytona, that playoff cut line would still not move to a position where Almirola could mathematically fall under it. It would move to between Wood Brothers Racing’s Matt DiBenedetto (637 points) and Byron.

So Almirola is 108 points ahead of where the cut line could be, and only 60 points are available for each driver in each race — only 55 for non-winners. Stage one wins are worth 10 points, stage two wins are worth 10 points, race wins are worth 40 points and second place finishes are worth 35 points.

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While Almirola is locked into the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, that is not the case for most of the other drivers in the field. Tune in to NBC at 7:30 p.m. ET this Saturday, August 29 for the live broadcast of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway.