Almirola latest surprise winner at Daytona

Jeff Birchfield • Jul 8, 2014 at 8:18 PM

Upon examination, Aric Almirola’s surprising win in Sunday’s Coke Zero 400 wasn’t that much of a surprise.

If you look back at the history of racing at the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega, there is quite a list of first-time winners.

Almirola became the eighth different driver over the past 25 years to score a first career win at Daytona. If you go back to the days before restrictor-plates were mandated, you see Greg Sacks, Sam McQuagg and the great Mario Andretti among those who count a win at Daytona as their only career NASCAR victory.

In more recent memory, then 20-year-old Trevor Bayne shocked the racing world by winning the 2011 Daytona 500. While the Knoxville driver has so far been a one-hit wonder, a group of four Daytona winners added second Cup Series wins to their resumes.

Derrike Cope followed his 1990 Daytona 500 win with a victory at Dover later that season. Likewise, Jimmy Spencer won the 400 at Daytona in 1994 and added another restrictor-plate win at Talladega.

John Andretti won the 400 in 1997 and added a win for Richard Petty at Martinsville two years later. That was the last win for the Richard Petty-owned No. 43 in the Sprint Cup Series until Almirola’s win on Sunday.

David Ragan is another driver who got his first win in the 400. He added another restrictor-plate win at Talladega last season.

Michael Waltrip and Sterling Marlin got first career wins in the Daytona 500 and later became two-time winners of the “Great American Race.” In fact, all four of Waltrip’s official Sprint Cup Series wins came at Daytona and Talladega, while half of Marlin’s 10 career wins were on the plate tracks.

Back to Sunday, Almirola’s victory was the fifth win for Richard Petty Motorsports, which formed after a merger with Gillett Evernham Motorsports in 2009.

Kasey Kahne won twice for the RPM team, while Marcos Ambrose also won twice after taking over for Kahne in the No. 9 car. Three of the four previous wins came on the road courses. For the Petty family overall, it was their record 273rd win in the Cup Series.

The victory also came on the weekend Richard Petty celebrated his 77th birthday and on the 30th anniversary of his famous 200th career win with President Ronald Reagan in attendance.

It is the first career win in 125 starts for Almirola, a 30-year-old Florida native. The critics will point to the fact it was a rain-shortened race on a restrictor-plate track, but Almirola ran up front all day. He has shown constant improvement since joining the team in 2012. It was his fourth top-10 finish of the season, which also includes a third-place finish in the Food City 500 at Bristol back in March.


Virginia driver Kres VanDyke won the special Fourth of July race at Kingsport Speedway last Friday night.

VanDyke led the whole way, although Johnson City driver Zeke Shell challenged him in the second half of the 125-lap race. However, Shell’s car didn’t come up to speed on a lap 101 restart due to an alternator problem.

VanDyke went on to record his fifth win of the season, while Kingsport driver Ronnie McCarty finished second and Morristown driver Lance Gatlin was third.

Among the others, Tyler Goodwin posted a sixth-place finish, while Joey Trent of Gray was 11th, Shell was 13th and Phil Harris was 16th in a field of 25 racers.

Rob Austin of Castlewood, Va., finally broke through for his first win in the Street Stock ranks after four runner-up finishes this season. John Ketron outdueled his son Jason and rival Keith Helton in a battle of Kingsport drivers to win the Pure 4 race, while other winners were Kirby Gobble of Abingdon, Va., in Mod 4 and Rusty Clendenin of Church Hill in Rookie Pure 4.

Another six-division program is set for this Friday night with grandstands opening at 5:30 p.m. and racing to begin at 8 p.m.


Volunteer Speedway drew a huge crowd to its “Knights of Destruction” show last Saturday night.

The 4/10-mile dirt track is finally cleaned up from debris left over from trailer races, demolition derbies and such. Next up is the Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series, which is scheduled for this Saturday night.

It’s the fourth year of the series coming to Bulls Gap with current NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie Austin Dillon a winner in the inaugural season.

Besides the main event, there will be a 35-lap feature for the Steel Head Late Models along with features for the Crate Late Model and Modified Hobby divisions.


A familar name dominated action at the DER Bracket Series this past weekend at Bristol Dragway.

Kingsport’s Van Greer, the son of 1974 NHRA Funny Car champion Shirl Greer, won the Super Pro class on Sunday. It came one day after he won the Pro division race and finished runner-up in the Motorcycle class.

Jerry Turner of Piney Flats won both days of Motorcycle action.

Other Sunday winners were: Chad Dotson (Pro), Jason Nelson (Sportsman), Steve Nunley (Trophy), Tucker Brown (Jr. Dragster, Division 1) and Shannon Nuttall (Jr. Dragster, Division 2).

Saturday winners included: Travis Kirkland (Super Pro), John Nelson (Sportsman), Chris Proffitt (Trophy), Kaden Haynes (Jr. Dragster, Division 1) and Taylor Gill (Jr. Dragster, Division 2).

Bristol Dragway hosts the World Footbrake Challenge this week with a $3,000-to-win race on Thursday and $10,000-to-win races scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.


Muddy Creek Raceway hosts the 30th annual Kawasaki Tennessee State Championship this weekend.

Some of the biggest names in motocross such as Ricky Carmichael, Kevin Windham, Ryan Villopoto and James Stewart competed in this event as youth riders. Friday is a practice day with the Ultra Series racing on Saturday. Sunday is the day of the state championship races.

Round 7 of the Hot Summer Nights Supercross Series took place at the Appalachian Fairgrounds last Saturday night.

Two riders from Johnson City, Jeffrey Bowman in the 85cc Beginner 9-15 class and Keith Hensley in the 40+ division, were among the class winners. There were also two winners from Jonesborough, Chris Furches (ATV Youth) and Riley Horton (Women’s Division), and two winners from Hampton, Bailey Hughes (125 cc 2-stroke) and Will Andrews (65cc 7-11).

Isak Dotson of Limestone took the 250 D title, while Mitchell County, N.C. continued to be well represented in the ATV classes.

Eric Hollifield and Justin Ricker were race winners, while Ryan Hoyle, Jordan Phillips and Jeremy Buchanan all posted runner-up finishes.

Other local runner-up finishers included: Brock Byrd of Unicoi (65cc 7-11), Parker Hughes of Elizabethton (85cc 9-11), Chris Morelock of Johnson City (125cc 2-stroke) and Wyatt Luther of Erwin (ATV Youth).

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