It was a special day in Daytona Beach thirty years ago as President Reagan watched Richard Petty drive his famous No. 43 into Daytona's Victory Lane. No one knew at that time that it would be thirty years before that iconic number would repeat the same journey.
Aric Almirola overcame two accidents and several rain delays to capture his first Cup Series victory and returned Petty's No. 43 to victory lane Sunday afternoon.
"I think it's very cool that we won on this weekend," said an excited Almirola. "It's 30 years to the weekend that The King won his 200th race with the President here. That's really special."
As the second major accident reduced the field, Almirola found himself out front when rain ended the event. The victory might have been rain shortened but it was no less special for the young driver from Tampa, Florida.
"Yeah, it's obviously really special," said a happy Almirola after the race. "I've told everybody outside and I'll say it again, but I couldn't have dreamed of a better place to get my first win."
Richard Petty was not at the track to witness his team's success but did call in to point out how much this win meant to his organization.
"Well, 30 years ago is history, okay, and today is future," said Petty from his home in North Carolina. "Today is today. So to be able to win the race down there, win it for the Air Force, 4th of July, you know, the whole thing is just great."
Almirola grew up dreaming of racing on Daytona's high banks but being in Victory Lane was a dream come true.
"It's just so cool, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity that Richard and our owners have given us at Richard Petty Motorsports to go out and to try and be successful," continued Almirola."And to now be able to get them to victory lane, to be in the Chase and to be able to go race for a championship, it is really special, and our race team deserves that."
The No. 43 might not return to Victory Lane for a long time but for a few moments under dark skies in Daytona, the sun was shining brightly inside a lot of people in NASCAR again.
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