The season is drawing to a close, and teams are either looking to gain a title or even gain momentum for next year. But some teams are still going really hard, each week, and are looking for that one track that they know will be a strong opportunity for victory.
For Almirola, he and his No. 43 team at Richard Petty Motorsports, the next weekend could be that opportunity.
The fourth race in the Chase is the Hollywood Casino 400, held at the Kansas Speedway. Last year, this race was later in the Chase due to the reconfiguration between events. It seemed to throw all teams for a twist as the new progressive banking made the track completely different, but for Almirola he seemed to find the muscle that had been missing from his team his entire season.
He qualified strong in the No. 43 Ford, and found himself at the front often in the race, seemingly having the car to beat. Almirola said it was the best car he had his entire career, and he looked poised to win.
But, a flat tire put him back in the pack, due to an unscheduled stop. Suddenly a second one goes down, and this time it puts him in the outside wall. The car then caught fire under the hood, ultimately ending his day due to oil leaking out the bottom of the engine and hitting the hot headers. It was an unfortunate end to clearly what was the best run of his entire career, possibly his life.
Now nearly a year removed from that race, Almirola returns with unfinished business at Kansas.
After qualifying well this past weekend at Dover, he did not maintain the strong effort, finishing a disappointing 22nd on the day. With only seven races remaining in the season, the opportunities for wins or just strong finishes are dwindling. Thus far, Almirola only has one top-five and five top-10 finishes this season. Clearly, a tough year for the young man who was brought into RPM by "The King" himself.
His contract is also up at the end of the season, as he and teammate Marcos Ambrose only signed one-year deals. It's unclear if either driver will be back for the 2014 season, but Almirola is at a point where it can be make-or-break for him.
Kansas is possibly the best opportunity for him to get that first win of his career. The question is, can he put what happened one year ago behind him and take the checkered flag?