Aric Almirola is going to be front and center at the start of Sunday’s Daytona 500. The Tampa, Florida, native won the first of two qualifying duels on Thursday, leading 52 of the 60 laps. Almirola’s victory in qualifying, combined with William Byron’s crash, means the 36-year-old will be in the front row for the opening race of the season.
Duel at Daytona No. 1: Aric Almirola!pic.twitter.com/bTlXkFaXPN
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 12, 2021
This will be Almirola’s 11th Daytona 500 overall and the 10th year in a row he has competed in the race. His best finish came in 2017, when he came in fourth. Almirola’s first Cup Series win, the 2014 Coke Zero 400, also came at Daytona.
As he prepares to start another season, Almirola is grateful for opportunities he’s had to deepen his relationship with God during a difficult 2020. The chaotic nature of the past 12 months served as a reminder of God’s sovereignty.
“I grew quite a bit this [past] year just because, you know, when things are out of your control, you have two choices: to either feel out of control or to realize that you’re always out of control, and that there’s only one person in control,” Almirola said on an episode of the Sports Spectrum Podcast released Friday.
Almirola grew up going to church, but did so mainly because his family thought it was the “right” thing to do. It was not until later in his life that Almirola realized the impact a personal relationship with God can have on someone. That realization came after living out his dream of being a race car driver, yet still feeling empty and incomplete.
“I’ve got everything I could ever dream of and still I oftentimes found myself unsatisfied and unfulfilled,” he said. “And I remember thinking to myself, ‘What is going on, what is wrong with you? How can you be so uncontent?”
To answer those questions, Almirola sought the advice of people close to him that he knew were Christians. He saw the joy they had and wanted to experience it himself, so he started making his faith a priority.
“As I walked with the Lord and started daily reading again, I realized that all I really needed was grace,” he said. “It was simple. All the other stuff didn’t matter and I was gonna fall short.”
— Sports Spectrum (@Sports_Spectrum) February 12, 2021
For somebody whose job is to compete and perform well for his crew and sponsors, that idea was contradictory to Almirola’s instincts as an athlete. Balancing his desire for success on the track with his desire for his identity to remain rooted in the Lord is a constant challenge for Almirola.
Though finding that balance isn’t easy, being able to separate his identity from his work fundamentally altered Almirola’s outlook on life.
“I picked up my Bible and started reading it, and started my walk — a real walk, a real journey with Christ. And man, that’s changed everything for me because for so long — and I think that all athletes are this way — we correlate who we are as people with results,” he said.
The 63rd running of the Daytona 500 is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday and will be broadcast on FOX.
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