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Almirola Gets First Career Win in Rain-Shortened Coke Zero 400

After so long, Aric Almirola can smile in victory lane for the first time in his career after winning the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400.
After so long, Aric Almirola can smile in victory lane for the first time in his career after winning the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400.Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

It was back in 1999 that the No. 43 last saw victory lane. That came in Martinsville with John Andretti at the wheel. The last time the No. 43 won at Daytona came on July 4, 1984, when Richard Petty won his 200th career race.

The wait is over for what some consider the most famous number in NASCAR to return to victory lane.

Sunday afternoon, Aric Almirola had a strong U.S. Air Force Ford all afternoon, and was able to avoid two major accidents and found himself at the front of the field at lap 113 of 160 in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. The caution flew a few laps earlier for debris coming off Joey Logano's car, but also for some rain that was reported by drivers.

The teams were brought to pit road, covers put on the cars, and the waiting began.

Unfortunately, despite the efforts of the Air Titan and jet driers, another heavy round of storms hit the track and surrounding areas, dumping water like Niagara Falls on the speedway. The time needed to dry the track to get ready to go back racing would take hours, even with the effort of the new drying machines. With that in mind, NASCAR made the call to end the race, giving the win to Almirola.

The win is the first of his career, and the first for the No. 43 since 1999, and the first for Richard Petty Motorsports since teammate Marcos Ambrose went to victory at Martinsville back in 2012.

This weekend in particular marked 30 years since "The King" won his 200th career race, which many have termed the "Perfect Race" being that the win came on July 4, it marked the bicentennial win for Petty's career, and saw the attendance of President Ronald Reagan.

Almirola marked another first for RPM as with his win, he would be the first driver of the team to make the Chase. He now is the 11th driver to make this year's reworked Chase field, where race winners are eligible for the championship as long as they are in the top-30 in points. He joins Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, plus Kurt and Kyle Busch as being single-race winners this season.

Sunday's race was marred by two multi-car wrecks, one at lap 21 that took out 16 cars including Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, and again on lap 98 that took out over half the field, including Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, and Kyle Busch, who ended up on his roof.

For now, RPM can celebrate a victory that many knew would come eventually, but many never expected to come at such a big race.

RACE NOTE: Teammate Marcos Ambrose was involved in both multi-car wrecks in the Coke Zero 400, but was able to survive with minor damage and finish 10th.