Almirola was the best of the rest this season

KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 19: Aric Almirola, driver of the #10 Smithfield Ford, prepares to drive during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on October 19, 2018 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

As the newcomer and fourth driver at Stewart-Haas Racing this year, most people held conservative expectations for Aric Almirola – expectations the 34-year old Tampa native blew out of the water.

After earning only his second ever bid into the Playoffs, Almirola advanced all the way to the next to last round – and then claimed fifth place overall in the championship standings – besting multi-time winners such as Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer.

Almirola averaged an 8.6 finish in the 10-race Playoffs, picking up his first victory since 2014 and first with SHR in the Talladega Playoff race. He had seven top-10 finishes and three top-five finishes. His four top-fives and 17 top-10s on the season are career highs – the top-10 mark more than doubled his previous best effort in six earlier fulltime Cup seasons.