Aric Almirola fought for a top-15 finish at Texas Motor Speedway against a host of adversaries that included a free-handling car, the sun and the track itself.
Almirola started Sunday’s race from the 14th position and learned quickly that “loose” would be the word for the day when talking about the handling of his No. 43 Farmland Ford. With the first 100 laps of the race running caution-free, the team used two green-flag pit stops to make air pressure and chassis adjustments to help tighten up the car. Despite continuing to report a loose condition on entry and exit, Almirola had a fast Ford Fusion and ran as high as 11th, able to close some gaps, one by one, that strung out the field over the long green-flag runs.
The lack of caution flags ended on Lap 100, when the yellow came out for debris on the track. At this time, Almirola told crew chief Todd Parrott that he didn’t like the adjustments made on his second green-flag stop and wanted to reverse them. A pit stop on Lap 100 allowed the crew to undo some of the previous changes, but by this time the team was chasing a moving target as track conditions were changing.
Through the middle portion of the race, Almirola continued to report an extremely loose condition as the cooling track freed up. He was also forced to battle a blinding glare off his windshield in Turns 3 and 4 as the late-afternoon sun sat right in the drivers’ line of sight. Despite the worsening conditions, Almirola held steady within or just outside the top 15.
With just over 100 laps to go, Parrott called his driver to pit road under the fifth caution of the day. The 43 crew reversed a previous track bar adjustment and inserted a spring rubber to help the free-handling Fusion. Almirola then took a Lap 227 restart in 21st. The adjustments helped, as the driver proceeded to pass four cars in the ensuing 12 laps.
The final 100 laps weren’t anywhere near as clean as the first 100, with the yellow flag flying four more times. But by the later stages of the event, the team’s persistent work on their Farmland Ford was paying off. In a run that began with a Lap 280 restart in the 20th position, Almirola took off and once again started picking cars off one by one. He was up to 16th by Lap 310 when the seventh caution came out, and up to 10th on Lap 320 for the eighth.
The team’s final trip to pit road came on Lap 324 under the ninth caution, giving Almirola four fresh tires with an air pressure adjustment. He returned to the track for a Lap 326 restart in 16th, ready to make a final push in the race’s eight remaining laps. But a spinning Mark Martin brought out the caution flag for the final time on Lap 330, setting up a green-white-checkered flag finish. Almirola reported his Farmland Fusion was now tight in the turns, but he stayed on track, now in 18th, to get whatever he could out of the car. The green flag dropped and Almirola pushed ahead to gain three positions in the final two laps to cross the line in 15th. The result is his seventh top-15 finish of the 2012 season.
He remains 21st in the point standings heading into the second-last race of the season at Phoenix next weekend.
Comments from Almirola after Texas: “Our Farmland Ford was pretty good early in the race and at the end, but we had a stretch in the middle where we were just way too loose. We were chasing the changing track conditions a little bit, which made it difficult. But all the guys on this No. 43 team worked hard all day, throwing everything they could at it to make it better. And they did. And we clawed for every spot we could get and came away with a top-15.”