Up in smoke

LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 19:  Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 Smithfield Ford, walks on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

LOUDON, NH – SEPTEMBER 19: Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 Smithfield Ford, walks on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

LOUDON, N.H.— In three seasons with Richard Petty Motorsports, Aric Almirola had never exited a race because of an engine failure—until last week at Chicagoland.

The blown engine couldn’t have come at a worse time. Almirola was running sixth, 30 laps away from making a statement in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Instead, he finished 41st and plummeted from potential Chase surprise to the longest of long shots to survive to first elimination round.

The culprit? A broken exhaust valve.

“It was the same thing that happened to the 22 (Joey Logano) at Kentucky and the same thing that happened to the 9 car (Marcos Ambrose) at Atlanta,” Almirola told the NASCAR Wire Service. “They’ve had a couple issues already this year, and they thought they had it fixed. They changed the way the valves were designed and thought that it wasn’t going be an issue any more, and I guess it was again.

“I talked to Doug Yates (president and CEO of Roush Yates Racing Engines), and he was heartbroken for us. He was extremely apologetic.”

Almirola said the team didn’t employ a more aggressive engine package for the Chicago race and that the failure was mere happenstance.

“It was nothing different than what we’ve been running the past couple months,” he explained. “My hat goes off to Doug Yates. He builds awesome horsepower for us. We went back and looked, and it’s the first time we have not finished a race because of an engine failure in the three years I’ve been at Richard Petty Motorsports.

“Of all weekends for it to happen, the first race of the Chase–why could it have not happened at Atlanta or Richmond or wherever else, but it is what it is. It just wasn’t meant to be. The stars didn’t line up right for us at Chicago, but we’ll rebound.”

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