Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Eckrich team brought home one of the hardest-earned top-20 finishes any team will ever see. Almirola started Sunday’s 200-lap event in the 41st position after hitting the wall during time trials and not recording a qualifying time. Taking the green flag in a back-up car that Almirola and his team worked overtime to prepare, the driver reported to crew chief Mike Ford after the first 10 laps that his Ford Fusion was handling fairly well. And it showed, as he had moved all the way up to 25th position. But the even keel did not last, and a short time later Almirola was reporting that his Eckrich Ford was starting to get too tight in the turns, preventing him from passing any more cars.
The No. 43 crew aimed to help him out on their first pit stop of the day on Lap 34, bringing him down pit road under green-flag conditions for right-side tires with an air-pressure adjustment, a turn of the trackbar and fuel. A few short laps later, Almirola reported back to his crew chief that changing only two tires contributed to the tightness of the car.
The Lap 64 caution gave the team a second opportunity to make adjustments to loosen up the car for the driver. After communicating to Ford how difficult it had become to pass under tight conditions, Almirola came to the pits on Lap 69, where Ford ordered four tires, fuel, and air-pressure and track bar adjustments. Restarting 22nd, Almirola radioed a short time later that the changes helped the car to turn better and he soon climbed up to the 19th position.
Plenty of cautions provided plenty of chances to work on the car’s handling, and soon on Lap 88 the yellow flag waved again. With Almirola explaining that his car would start a run a little loose and get tighter as it ran, Ford brought him to pit road for another track bar adjustment and fuel. The changes seemed to keep the car’s handling moving in the right direction, as Almirola was once again passing cars and had climbed to the 16th position by Lap 110.
A lengthy mid-race green-flag run gave the driver and crew chief time to assess their car and plan their next stop. They decided to keep adjusting in the same direction, and on their next green-flag stop on Lap 126, brought the car in for additional track bar and air-pressure adjustments along with four tires and fuel. Back on track in the 19th spot, Ford told Almirola he was running top-10 lap times. Staying out on the next caution on Lap 134, the No. 43 entered the top 10 to restart ninth. Another caution on Lap 142 brought another decision not to pit, and Almirola advanced one more position to eighth.
It was on this next green-flag run that Almirola reported his Ford Fusion was suddenly loose, a condition that Ford attributed to the track dryers blowing the rubber off the track during the previous caution period. The change in handling had the No. 43 back in 14th position at Lap 148. Two final pit stops on Laps 165 and 182 brought final changes to set the car up for what would be a green-white-checkered finish. Taking the final green flag in 13th position, Almirola was pushed up into the wall off Turn Two on the restart by another car. He was able to save the car, but the hit made him lose momentum. Almirola was able to hold on with the damaged car for a 20th-place finish.
Almirola remains 21st in the point standings heading to Bristol next week.
Comments from Almirola after Michigan: “I’ve got to hand it to this 43 team. They worked so hard this weekend. And even with the trouble we had, we had a pretty good back-up car that was pretty fast in clean air. Obviously, we want to do better, but a top-20 sure isn’t bad considering what we went through this weekend. The last restart we just got pushed up into the wall and just lost what we had gained. That was really frustrating after having a strong run all afternoon.”