Almirola’s victory ends a bad streak
LOUDON, NH – As darkness drew nearer, Aric Almirola came to life Sunday night at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and claimed the surprise win, the first of the year for Stewart-Haas Racing.
âThere is no doubt that we struggled,â said Almirola. “But guess what? We’re going to run in the playoffs.”
The win was a needed boost for Ford and rocked the playoff field with just four races to go before the 16-driver field was defined. The race was delayed by nearly two hours in the rain and NASCAR called it early due to the darkness, leaving it eight laps from its scheduled conclusion.
New Hampshire was slated for 301 laps and 318.46 miles.
Almirola, who entered 27th in the points standings, earned his third career Cup victory and his first since 2018. He was the first driver in the SHR peloton which includes Kevin Harvick, Cole Custer and Chase Briscoe to cross the flag at checkerboard. Almirola only had two top 10s this season.
âThere were so many people who stood behind us during the crappiest year ever,â said Almirola. “Dude, this is so good for them.”
He broke up the Team Penske night – Brad Keselowksi and Ryan Blaney had fun at one point for the lead – and Christopher Bell couldn’t catch up to him.
Bell won the Xfinty Series race on Saturday and finished second on Sunday. Keselowski, Joey Logano and Blaney made a 3-4-5 finish for Team Penske.
Almirola rested his head on the car with almost stunned disbelief at having clinched his playoff spot.
âI love this race track,â he said. “I won this race a few years ago and lost it. We’ve been through so much and I just passed the test.”
Almirola ended a 98-race winless streak and added New Hampshire to a rain-cut victory at Daytona in 2014 and Talladega in 2018 for their third victory in 374 career races.
Ford drivers took five of the top six places.
NASCAR started the race in wet conditions and that decision turned into a disaster when pole-sitter Kyle Busch spun down the slippery track and destroyed just six laps in the race. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin also sped and the red flag was waved to stop the race. Truex and Hamlin have returned to the race. Busch’s race in the No. 18 Toyota was over and he bit his tongue at NASCAR’s call to start the race.
“It should never have turned green at the start, but then it just kept getting worse as the laps went,” said Busch. “We’ve been talking about this for two rounds when it was raining. It doesn’t make sense to say what I mean, it’s no use to you.”
Hamlin said, “It’s just a bad look.”
NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell told NBC Sports the races started in a haze but the track “crept in quickly.”
Chase Elliott was still soaking up his Saturday night when he faced his NASCAR Hall of Fame dad and won the Superstar Racing Experience at the former Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.
He had the best of Bill Elliott, 65, even though his dad is a regular at SRX. Tony Stewart was second and the elder Elliott third.
âWe were literally racing for the race win last night, and it wasn’t a fluke, a joke or a setup,â said Chase Elliott. “We were legitimately in race 1-2 which is amazing. Tony has been a lifelong hero of mine. To share the podium with them both, I couldn’t have asked for something more special than that.”
Defending Cup champion Chase Elliott said NASCAR should race at the Fairgrounds on the further out Nashville Superspeedway.
âI’ve always felt that way, but that other lead isn’t the answer,â he said. “The energy is right there in town, and we don’t need to look any further. That’s it for this town. Without a doubt.”
Denny Hamlin competes in a NASCAR Cup Series car race on Sunday July 18, 2021 in Loudon, NH (AP Photo / Charles Krupa)
Kevin Harvick competes in a NASCAR Cup Series car race on Sunday July 18, 2021 in Loudon, NH (AP Photo / Charles Krupa)
Brad Keselowski competes in a NASCAR Cup Series car race on Sunday July 18, 2021 in Loudon, NH (AP Photo / Charles Krupa)
Bubba Wallace, right, smiles as he watches New England Patriots wide receiver Gunner Olszewski catch a soccer ball thrown by a fan during a rain delay during the NASCAR Cup Series auto race on Sunday, July 18 2021 in Loudon, NH (AP Photo / Charles Krupa)
Driver Bubba Wallace throws a soccer ball to fans during a rain delay during the NASCAR Cup Series auto race on Sunday July 18, 2021 in Loudon, NH (AP Photo / Charles Krupa)
With his son Hudson on his shoulders, Joey Logano stops to sign an autograph for a young fan ahead of the NASCAR Cup Series car race on Sunday July 18, 2021 in Loudon, NH (AP Photo / Charles Krupa)
Kevin Harvick walks down the pit road under an umbrella during a rain delay during the NASCAR Cup Series auto race on Sunday July 18, 2021 in Loudon, NH (AP Photo / Charles Krupa)
Aric Almirola smiles as he wields a giant lobster after winning the NASCAR Cup Series car race on Sunday July 18, 2021 in Loudon, NH (AP Photo / Charles Krupa)