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Ask Aric Almirola: What’d the NASCAR driver learn from last year’s Dover disappointment?

The Hillsborough High alumnus is returning to Dover for the first time since an unlucky caution derailed him last October.

After recording his seventh top 10 of the season last week at Talladega, Tampa’s Aric Almirola heads to Dover — the site of one of his most memorable runs from 2018.

The Hillsborough High alumnus led 64 laps there in October and was in position to win the playoff race before an unlucky caution derailed his chances.

As Almirola returns to that track for Sunday’s Gander RV 400, the Tampa Bay Times asked the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford about last fall’s 13th-place finish at Dover in Ask Aric — a periodic feature where the NASCAR playoff contender shares his thoughts on racing, the season and his hometown.

Dover was obviously a disappointing finish for you in October. What’d you learn from that experience and that race?

So last year, it looked like we were going to win the race at Dover. I felt like we had the best car, and coming down to the closing laps had a sizable lead. And with just less than 10 laps to go, the caution came out, and we made the decision at that point to be on offense.

We were the leader. When you’re the leader of the race, you’re in a really vulnerable spot at a place like that track. There’s, I think, maybe 20 cars on the lead lap. Whatever you do, at least half the field’s going to do something opposite to try to give themselves a chance to win the race.

And so we rolled down pit road and came and got tires, and we made the conscious decision to be on offense and have four fresh tires to have the most amount of grip and to go and try to win the race. We came off pit road sixth. That was a challenge.

I think we restarted the race with maybe six, seven laps to go. I went for it. I ran practically wide open through Turns 1 and 2 on the restart and got around one car and was trying to pass, I think, the 11 and the 9 for the lead back and got into the fence off Turn 2 and wrecked.

For me, I was pretty down in the dumps after that. With the situation we were in, points and things, even if we didn’t win, finishing second or third would have still been a good day, especially points-wise. But the one thing I learned leaving there was that all of my guys on my team were proud of me. Every one of them came and patted me on the back — that was awesome. We’d rather wreck trying to win than settle, and so it just gave me a really big sense of confidence that the guys on my team had my back.

That was probably the third or fourth time throughout the year where we had a shot to win and things just didn’t work out. Knowing that my brothers, the guys on my team, supported me and were proud of me and that they were fired up that we were going for the win, it just gave me a different outlook and a different vote of confidence, and I kind of carried that through the rest of the year.

Coincidentally the very next week at Talladega, we won. That was really cool to go from a rather emotional low after the race at Dover to the extreme opposite and just be on a really, really huge emotional high winning at Talladega.