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Ask Aric Almirola: On the end of July 4 NASCAR racing at Daytona

This weekend is the final edition of what was once called the Firecracker 400. That makes the Hillsborough High alumnus nostalgic.

Sixty years of NASCAR racing at Daytona around July 4 will be coming to an end this weekend.

Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 is the last planned running of Daytona International Speedway’s July 4 weekend tradition, which dates back to 1959. That’s because NASCAR’s Cup Series is moving its schedule around next year, pushing Daytona’s second race to Aug. 29 —the final event before the playoffs begin.

Related: READ MORE: NASCAR 2020 schedule: Daytona’s July race moves to August, Homestead won’t host championship

The track’s unpredictability and the win-and-you’re-in playoff structure should create plenty of drama, but it’s also creating some nostalgia for Tampa’s Aric Almirola.

The Hillsborough High alumnus went to the race for years as a fan and earned his first Cup victory there in 2014.

The Tampa Bay Times asked the driver of the No. 10 Ford about his feelings on the end of what was once called the Firecracker 400 in Ask Aric — a periodic feature where the NASCAR playoff contender shares his thoughts on racing, the season and his hometown.

You’ve been coming to the July race at Daytona for years, as a spectator and competitor. How do you feel about this being the last scheduled event there on the July 4 weekend?

I’m sad about it being the last Fourth of July race at Daytona. For me, since I was a really little kid, Fourth of July weekend kind of goes hand in hand with NASCAR racing in Daytona. That’s just how it’s always been. As a kid and a fan of the sport, from a very young age, that was something that I always remember, so that nostalgia for me is still there, and I enjoy spending Fourth of July down in Daytona. It’s what’s normal.

Related: MORE ASK ALMIROLA: What’s it like to be caught up in the big one at Daytona?

Even when I wasn’t driving in NASCAR and I was just a fan growing up in Tampa, that was kind of our family trip. We would either go to Disney or go to Daytona or go to both – we’d go to Disney for a couple days and then continue on to Daytona for a couple days to go watch the Fourth of July 400-mile race at Daytona, then we’d head back to Tampa after the race was over.

I have a lot of really great childhood memories of spending the Fourth of July weekend and time revolving around Daytona and NASCAR racing. For that to be moved, I think it’s a little bit sad.

But at the same time, I can see the positive with the schedule for next year. I think moving that race, that Daytona race, to the last race of the season and it being the cut-off race before the playoffs is going to add so much drama and excitement. That’s going to be the Hail Mary, if you will —or like pulling the goalie out in the final minutes of a hockey game. Everybody’s going to do whatever it takes when we get down there. If you’re not in the playoffs, that’s going to be kind of like the last chance.

Right now we go to Indianapolis as the last race before the playoffs. To be honest, Indy is always going to be won by one of the best teams in the garage. Their cars are faster, they’ve got more speed, more downforce, more horsepower, all those things. Daytona’s kind of a wildcard and a crapshoot. I think the drama and that excitement is going to be really great for the sport.