When NASCAR’s playoffs start Sunday at the South Point 400 in Las Vegas, Tampa’s Aric Almirola will be in it for the second straight year and the third time in his career.
The Hillsborough High alumnus enters with eight consecutive finishes outside the top 10 but is capable of making another strong run. He advanced to the third round last year and ended the season fifth in the standings.
Almirola has been in it long enough to know that something changes when the regular season turns into the postseason. The Tampa Bay Times asked the driver of the No. 10 Ford about it this week in Ask Aric — a periodic feature where the NASCAR playoff contender shares his thoughts on racing, the season and his hometown.
What’s different for you when the playoffs start? What changes?
When the playoffs start, it really is like everybody switches gears to another level. It’s hard to explain, unless you live it and you’re in it. But the race teams, the crew guys, the pit crews, the drivers —the intensity level just elevates, and everybody rises to the occasion.
You show up in those playoffs races, and you go out and practice. The 16 playoff cars will be in the top 17 or 18 cars on speed. The competiveness and the intensity level is such an extreme high that it’s hard to explain. It’s hard to even fathom you can get to that next level, because you feel like all year long you are competing and competing at a high level. It’s just like, when the playoffs start, everybody digs deep and finds just a little bit more. That’s what makes it exciting.