With a dramatic victory Saturday night at Martinsville Speedway, Aric Almirola removed an asterisk from his career record and collected a $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus in the process.

With considerable help—perhaps unintentional—from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sheldon Creed after an overtime restart, Almirola grabbed the lead from Sam Mayer and won the DUDE Wipes 250 under caution when Riley Herbst, pole winner Brandon Jones and Ryan Ellis wrecked in Turn 2 on the final lap.

The victory was Almirola’s first since retiring from full-time NASCAR Cup Series competition and rejoining Joe Gibbs Racing this season. The record book will show that the driver of the No. 20 JGR Toyota has five NASCAR Xfinity Series wins to his credit, but Almirola has always considered his first one tainted.

In 2007, he won the pole at the Milwaukee Mile and started the race but turned the car over to Denny Hamlin, who was late in his commute from a Cup date at Sonoma Raceway. Hamlin won the race, but Almirola got credit for the victory as the driver of record.

“Man, this is so awesome,” Almirola said. “To win for Joe Gibbs Racing. I’ve had an asterisk next to a win for Coach (Joe Gibbs) for 17 years, and this is so awesome to finally put a real win banner up inside the shop at Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, Coach for calling me and giving me this opportunity to have some fun and still scratch the itch of racing but still get to spend a lot of time with our family.”

Though Almirola led 148 of 251 laps, the outcome was in doubt until he took command after the final restart. Race runner-up Sam Mayer held the lead at that point, but when Almirola’s JGR teammate Sheldon Creed took Almirola and Mayer three-wide in Turn 2 on the penultimate lap, contact slowed Mayer’s progress and allowed Almirola to break clear for the lead.

“Man, those restarts here are just ruthless,” said Mayer, who wrested the top spot from Almirola on Lap 243, moments before a five-car pileup on the frontstretch caused the 10th caution of the race.

“Painful. Obviously, the 20 was really, really good today. It was good that I was able to keep up and be as fast as them and pass all those JGR cars there at the end and march up to the front. That’s the first time I’ve done that here…

“But at the end of the day, we needed a ‘W’, and I got one I feel like stolen from me there a little bit.”

Mayer’s pass on Lap 243 was one of four lead changes over the final 12 laps. On Lap 239, JGR’s Chandler Smith, who started from the back of the field after crashing in practice on Friday, muscled past Almirola, who returned the favor by moving his teammate into the top lane for a pass on Lap 241.

“Chandler, I felt like used me up pretty good, so when I got back to him, I was going to make sure he knew it,” Almirola said. “From there the race was on. Mayer did a great job of getting to me and moving me out of the way.

“And then on that restart I knew it was going to be tough. I was really thankful to be able to hold on to it. They drilled me in the left rear, and I was able to hold on to it and get a good run off (Turn) 2.”

Smith ran third, followed by Carson Kvapil, who finished fourth in his Xfinity Series debut. Justin Allgaier came home fifth after starting from the rear. Creed, Sammy Smith, Cole Custer, Sunoco rookie, Jesse Love and Josh Williams completed the top 10.

New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen was 11th in his first trip to Martinsville.

Almirola was won the Dash 4 Cash bonus as the highest finisher among four eligible drivers. Since he is not competing at Texas next weekend, the four Dash 4 Cash drivers in Fort Worth are Mayer, Smith, Allgaier and Creed.

— NASCAR Newswire —

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