Almirola rallies past Larson for surprising Xfinity win at Sonoma
SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — Aric Almirola won the NASCAR Xfinity Series' inaugural race at Sonoma Raceway on Saturday night, capitalizing on a late restart and an even later mistake by Kyle Larson.
Almirola drove his Ford to the first-ever victory for RSS Racing, his first career road course victory, his fourth career Xfinity victory and his first in the series since 2017. RSS Racing has a partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing.
“It’s been a really tough year on the Cup side, and to come out here and get to celebrate with my kids, that is so special,” Almirola said. “So excited to share this Victory Lane here.”
A.J. Allmendinger finished second ahead of Larson, who had dominated the entire Xfinity weekend until Almirola snatched the victory in the series' first race on this winding, hilly course at the base of Northern California wine country. Almirola seized the opportunities created by Jeffrey Earnhardt's crash and Larson's imprecise navigation of Sonoma's big hairpin turn, giving him space for a comfortable victory.
“I just got too greedy,” said Larson, who led 53 of the 79 laps overall. “(RSS Racing) really deserves a win, but we all found a way to lose. Just bummed and mad at myself.”
Larson dominated practice and qualifying for the race on the NASCAR track closest to his hometown in the Sacramento suburbs. His best practice time was more than a second faster than the rest of the field, and he comfortably won the pole Saturday.
Larson led 39 of the 45 laps in the first two stages, and he was running a full 13.5 seconds ahead of Allmendinger when a caution came out with 19 laps to go for Earnhardt, who missed the entry to Turn 10. Almirola didn't pit and took the lead with 15 laps to go, while Larson was third.
Larson got around Allmendinger and spent several laps on Almirola’s bumper, but Larson then made a major mistake on Sonoma’s hairpin with seven laps to go. He clipped a tire barrier and badly missed the turn when the steering was briefly knocked out of his hands, falling back into third and creating an insurmountable deficit.
“I knew that if I could just hold them off for seven, eight laps, I thought I could maintain and keep pace for a while,” Almirola said. “Larson made a mistake, and it gave me a lot of breathing room and I was finally able to start slowing down, run my pace and take care of the tires. … I still can’t believe it. It’s amazing to go to Victory Lane in a road race.”
Almirola, Allmendinger and Larson are three of the eight Cup Series drivers who ran the Sonoma Xfinty race. Almirola is currently 25th in the Cup standings with just one top-10 finish this season.
Ty Gibbs finished fourth and Parker Kligerman was fifth. Series points leader John Hunter Nemechek finished 16th.
After a one-week break in conjunction with the Cup Series break, the Xfinity Series resumes June 24 at Nashville Superspeedway.
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