Almirola got out of his car and watched the radar with crewmembers during the final red flag, a 56-minute wait that had most drivers believing the race would resume. But when heavy rain soaked parts of the track, officials called it for good with 48 laps remaining.
“I was doing a lot of hardcore praying, hoping the good Lord would open the skies up and let it rain,” Almirola said. “If we would have went back racing, I still think we had enough car to go there.
“I don’t think this was handed to us by any means. Let me be very clear about that. … Those last two restarts, Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon and Brian Vickers, they didn’t just let me go. They saw the rain coming, too, and we were all racing for it.”
Vickers finished second, followed by Kurt Busch, Casey Mears and rookie Austin Dillon. Danica Patrick was eighth despite a late pit-road mistake, and reigning Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 14th.
Almirola became the 11th driver to win this season as they jockey for one of the 16 spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
In his third full season driving for Petty, Almirola went into Daytona with just four career top-five finishes and had never finished higher than 18th in the standings.
But he and teammate Marcos Ambrose have slowly been inching RPM back toward the front, and Almirola had his previous career-best finish of third earlier this season at Bristol.
Many other drivers left Daytona scratching their heads over the decision to not wait out the rain like they had so many other times this weekend.
“It seems early to call a race,” Kurt Busch said. “Maybe we could have run later on today and still finished and everybody could have back home and to work on Monday.”