Aric Almirola keeping his head up after blown engine

The best word Aric Almirola could come up with was “heartbroken.”

That’s how he felt after getting out of his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford in the garage late in Sunday’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway after spending a majority of the race running among the top 10.

Shortly after teams completed a round of green-flag pit stops, a puff of smoke could be seen coming from Almirola’s car. Soon after on Lap 231, he was heading to the garage with a blown engine.

He was credited with a 41st-place finish.

Almirola, who qualified for the Chase with his July win at Daytona, was considered a longshot to contend for the title, but Sunday’s performance turned heads.

“I knew this team was capable of that,” Almirola said. “We were coming off top-10s at Richmond (Va.) and Atlanta and had momentum on our side.

“We know what we are capable of. Everyone else might not think so – the rest of the world thinks we are underdogs and we will gladly accept that tag – but what we’ve shown today and the last two weeks what exactly what we are capable of.”

All is not lost for Almirola and his team.

The four Chase drivers lowest in points after the third race will be eliminated from title contention, but a win during the next two races – at New Hampshire and Dover, Del. – would lock a driver into the next round.

Almirola might be in a precarious points position, but there remain two opportunities to win races. He, Greg Biffle, A.J. Allmendinger and Ryan Newman currently hold the bottom four positions among Chase drivers.

“We have to win. That is it. There is no other option,” Almirola said. “We have to go and figure out how we can win one of the next two races.

“We have nothing to hang our heads about.”