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Ask Aric Almirola: What’s it like to be caught up in the big one at the Daytona 500?

The Hillsborough High alumnus feared he was going to do a somersault during a 21-car crash Sunday.
Part of Aric Almirola's No. 10 Ford left the ground in Sunday's big crash at the Daytona 500. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Published Feb. 20
Updated Feb. 20

Tampa’s Aric Almirola didn’t have the start he wanted to the NASCAR Cup Series season.

The Hillsborough High alumnus was collected in the 21-car crash near the end of Sunday’s Daytona 500.

The Tampa Bay Times asked the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford about it in the first installment of Ask Aric — a periodic feature where last season’s fifth-place driver shares his thoughts on racing, the season and his hometown.

Aric, you were obviously caught up in the inevitable big one at Daytona. What was going through your head as you saw the wreck happen and got involved in it? What are you thinking when part of your car goes into the air, and what are your physically doing in the car at that point?

I saw the wreck start to happen. I actually thought we were going to wreck probably a lap before that. Everybody was just getting really aggressive, and the pushing and shoving was getting way more intense. So I knew it was coming. You just kind of always hope you’re going to come out on the good side of it.

I saw the wreck happen. I started to get slowed down, but we’re going 200 mph. The guys behind me just couldn’t get slowed down. We all couldn’t get slowed down, and we just kind of all piled in there. Plus, when they start wrecking like that, a bunch of oil and fluid and stuff comes out onto the race track from when the cars run into each other. It makes the track extra slippery.

At a certain point in the wreck, you’re just kind of along for the ride. The initial instinct is to try to drive the car and avoid the wreck. Once you know that you’re in the wreck, you kind of just brace for impact. A lot of people take their hands off the steering wheel, but that is very unnatural for me. I keep my hands on the steering wheel. I kind of lock my elbow in and just, everything tenses up and tightens up and you brace for impact.

I hit the wall, and there was a lot of sparks and a little bit of fire and a lot of smoke. But I could see. I could see out the top part of my windshield, and I could see the roof number of the 12 car in front of me. When I saw that, I thought, “Oh boy, I’m going over.” I thought I was going to do a somersault and go headfirst over the roof of the 12 car. And fortunately, the momentum of the pack and of the crash kept going forward, and my car set back on the ground. For a split second there, I thought for sure that I was going to start flipping and going end over end.

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