Florida native Almirola wins one in the rainy Sunshine State

It may have come about under unusual circumstances, but Aric Almirola’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory coming at Daytona was something he had imagined for a long time.

“I couldn’t have dreamed of a better place to get my first win,” Almirola said after taking home the checkers in the weather postponed, rain-shortened event. “Of all the places I could pick to win, I would pick Daytona.”

The Saturday night race began on Sunday morning thanks to weather, and NASCAR called it official after an hour-long red flag with 48 laps to go produced no sign of clearer weather ahead. Almirola was the leader at the time of the red flag and was awarded the win on Sunday afternoon.

Sure, the track is historic and a trip to Victory Lane here is arguably one of the most coveted achievements in motorsports, but for Almirola, his pride in this win hits much closer to home – literally.

He grew up just two hours from Daytona in Tampa, Florida, and spent his childhood attending Daytona 500s and Firecracker 400s. He cut his teeth racing go-karts at the municipal stadium nearby and visiting the speedway’s annual after-Christmas karting event.

“Me and my family loaded up every Christmas night after we’d eat Christmas dinner and we’d drive over here and get ready for Kart Week from the time I was eight years old until I was probably 16 years old,” Almirola said, recalling his memories of the track.

“I would just look around and look at how big and massive this place is,” he said. “I just could envision the excitement and the hype of what it would be like to be a driver with hundreds of thousands of fans sitting in the grandstands.

“Not only do I have that opportunity now, but I’ve gotten to go to victory lane in front of all those people,” Almirola said.

This win may not have been seen by quite as many people as Almirola once imagined thanks to the weather that plagued the event, but it was certainly a story to be remembered. In addition to pulling off his first win in his home state, the victory for Richard Petty Motorsports also brought the iconic No. 43 car back to Victory Lane on the 30th anniversary of Petty’s 200th win in the same car number.

It was a remarkable day indeed considering the unusual circumstances, but for Almirola, it all just made the win even more memorable.

“It’s been a really, really cool path that I’ve taken to get here, and to get to my first win at Daytona is unbelievably special,” he said. “Words don’t even describe it.”

This story originally appeared on Tori’s blog on the Florida Sports Talk website.

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