Murto: Almirola collects first win

Aric Almirola finally got a win in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.

Thirty years after Richard Petty drove his famous No. 43 to victory in the 400-mile Daytona race to grab the final win of his career, Almirola drove the car Richard Petty Motorsports entry to his first victory on a wild, rain-shortened event.

But don’t think that Almirola lucked into the win, even though there were a total of zero cars on track that didn’t have some sort of damage by the time the race ended. Yes, there was a 15-car accident on lap 20 and a 25-car wreck on lap 99, but Almirola qualified near the front and ran there all day.

Raised in Tampa, Florida and of Cuban descent, it was a little more than 10 years ago that Aric Almirola became the first Hispanic to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race when he won a Late Model Stock Car feature at Hickory (North Carolina) Motor Speedway. While NASCAR’s diversity program was trying its hardest to promote a racer named Jesus Hernandez because he had a Hispanic-sounding name, it was Almirola who raced his way into the record book.

And as he worked his way up the ladder, he often could be found in the pits at Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, helping local Late Model competitors when he wasn’t behind the wheel himself. Aric Almirola is no stranger to racing in this region, and we can consider him one of our own. It’s good to see him get his first win, and the first win for the 43 since John Andretti won at Martinsville in 1997.

It was also good to see Juan Pablo Montoya back in victory lane. Montoya owned the 500-mile IndyCar race at Pocono on Sunday, qualifying on the pole and using the correct fuel strategy to win the fastest 500-mile race in IndyCar history at 202.4 mph. Montoya’s Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves fished second. It was the 15th IndyCar win of the Colombian’s career, but his first since he last ran with the series in 2000. Back then he drove for Chip Ganassi, who probably wishes he’d made room for Montoya in his IndyCar program.

British fans were thrilled when their driver, Lewis Hamilton, won the Grand Prix of Britain at Silverstone.

The weekend didn’t start out right for Hamilton, as he threw away his final qualifying lap and was forced to start sixth on the grid. His Mercedes teammate and Formula One point leader Nico Rosberg had a good lead when mechanical gremlins forced Rosberg out of the race. Valtteri Bottas drove his Williams from 14th to second, and Daniel Ricciardo again proved to be the better Red Bull Renault by finishing third, despite Sebastien Vettel’s front row starting spot.

The race was red-flagged after the first lap to repair a section of guardrail following a vicious accident involving Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen. The Finnish driver’s car was destroyed, yet he only suffered a “badly bruised ankle,” according to doctor reports at the scene. It’s amazing how safe racing is today compared to only a few years ago.

Motorcycle racing, however, is still very dangerous. That may be why motorcycle racers are considered some of the bravest athletes on the planet.

Bryan Smith was the best of the brave at Hagerstown Speedway on Saturday night as he rode his Kawasaki to victory in the Hub City Classic following a great battle with AMA Grand National Flat Track Expert point leader Jared Mees. In the Pro Singles division, Kyle Johnson thrilled the crowd by making a last-lap pass for his third win in a row.

Mees had a pretty good weekend in our region, as he also won Friday’s Rodney Farris Memorial/Barbara Fritchie Classic at the Frederick (Maryland) Fairgrounds. Rodney Farris was a top flat track racer on the national circuit, who was tragically killed in a racing accident in 1995 on a mile track in Illinois. He was from Winchester.

Hopefully Winchester Speedway will bring flat track motorcycles back at some point in the future. This Saturday night you can see Super Late Models compete for 30 laps, and on July 19 they race for 35 laps and $3,000 to win.

Motorcycle motocross racing comes back to Shenandoah Speedway on July 19; I’d suggest getting there about 10 a.m. at the latest. It’s only $10 to watch the races all day.

This Saturday the Shenandoah oval is back in action. The Virginia Sprint Series will provide their usual high-speed thrills, and Late Models also are on the bill. You might even see the next Aric Almirola in action.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.