Aric Almirola Takes New Hampshire and Throws NASCAR Playoffs into Chaos

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New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Loudon, NH — July 18, 2021

The Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 today at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway may further clarify the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings. Or the results may dash the hopes of those drivers hoping to squeak into the postseason on points or with an upset victory.

Kurt Busch(1) put himself into the group of 16 who will compete for the Cup Series Championship with a victory last week at Atlanta. Another new name adding to the 2021 winners list is a distinct possibility at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Today’s race, 301 laps around the 1.058-mile oval speedway, totals 318.46 miles of racing. Stages are 85/110/106 laps and Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski(2) is the defending champion. He starts 11th on the grid today, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch(18) and Martin Truex Jr.(19) sit on the front row and will lead the field to green.

Matt DiBenedetto(21) starts 14th after having it confirmed he will not be back in the Wood Brothers Ford Mustang for the 2022 season. Running better in the second half of the season and still a contender for the Playoffs, DiBenedetto has something to prove today.

Stage 1

The pole-sitter Kyle Busch quickly drove away from Truex on Lap 1. Which made him the first driver into Turn 1 on Lap 6 when a pop-up shower soaked that end of the track. Busch spun, severely damaging the rear-end of his race car and Truex followed him into the wall. NASCAR brought the cars to pit road and the red flag was displayed

It turned out to be a costly day for Joe Gibbs Racing as the 3rd of their four cars in the race, Denny Hamlin(11), also hit the wall in the same portion of the track. Hamlin, in a tight battle with Kyle Larson for the regular-season championship points title, may be able to continue with repairs to his car. But, Busch is done for the day.

Kyle noted a mist had been falling since the start of the race and on the previous lap a number of drivers reported the amount of moisture had increased to a worrisome level. “The race should never have been started” was Busch’s comment as he turned to walk away from what may have been a good chance to add to his win total.

A piece of debris that appeared to be a clump of rubber became lodged in the throttle body of Joey Logano’s engine. Instead of waiting for an opportunity to pit under caution and repair the issue, a crew member reached in under a hood flap trying to locate the problem while the red flag was still displayed.

The penalty for working on the car under red flag conditions cost Logano 2 laps. After a 1 hour 41-minute delay the red flag was lifted and cars returned to the track under caution. Pit road was finally opened on Lap 21 for teams to service their race cars. Most of the cars out front stayed on the track, while further back in the pack cars reported for service.

Back to Racing

The green was displayed on Lap 23 with Chase Elliott(9) in the lead. Kurt Busch(1), Alex Bowman(48), Christophe Bell(20), and Ryan Blaney(12) followed. However, by Lap 31 the race was back under yellow for an incident between Anthony Alfredo(38) and Bubba Wallace(23) on the front stretch.

On the restart, Elliott was out front again. This time racing with Blaney for the top spot. Brad Keselowski(2) entered the fray as the laps wound down to the end of the 1st Stage. Blaney held on for the Stage win followed by Keselowski and Elliott. Kevin Harvick(4), still winless in 2021, took the 4th position and the 7 bonus points that go with it.

Stage 1 Results

Position Car Driver Points
1 12 Ryan Blaney* 10
2 2 Brad Keselowski* 9
3 9 Chase Elliott 8
4 4 Kevin Harvick* 7
5 8 Tyler Reddick 6
6 20 Christopher Bell 5
7 11 Denny Hamlin 4
8 42 Ross Chastain 3
9 21 Matt DiBenedetto* 2
10 5 Kyle Larson 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage 2

Harvick did his job on the track and his crew performed during the Stage ending pit stop. The #4 car exited the pits in 1st place. Harvick was followed by Hamlin, Tyler Reddick(8), Keselowski, and Elliott.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light Apple Ford, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Photo by James Gilbert / Getty Images

Getting a big jump at the drop of the green flag to start Stage 2, Harvick had a chance to run his Mustang in clean air. The pony liked it as the Stewart-Haas driver quickly grew the interval to over one second.

Harvick was unchallenged until Quin Houff(00) spun with some help from Ryan Newman(6) bringing out the caution midway through the Stage. This allowed everyone to pit for fuel and tires under yellow. Harvick was again able to exit pit road first and retain the lead.

On the restart, green flag racing ended quickly as Bubba Wallace and Chris Buescher(17) got tangled up off Turn 2 bringing out the caution flag again. While Harvick has shown the ability to time the restarts perfectly, he could not get away from Keselowski this time.

Brad drove to the front and held on to take the green and white checkered flag in Stage 2.

Stage 2 Results

Position Car Driver Points
1 2 Brad Keselowski* 10
2 4 Kevin Harvick* 9
3 12 Ryan Blaney* 8
4 11 Denny Hamlin 7
5 10 Aric Almirola* 6
6 9 Chase Elliott 5
7 5 Kyle Larson 4
8 8 Tyler Reddick 3
9 42 Ross Chastain 2
10 1 Kurt Busch 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

The Final Stage

The Top 3 held position off pit road, Aric Almirola(10) was 4th and Kyle Larson(5) exited in 5th. Denny Hamlin caught a bad break when a lug nut got caught between the wheel and the hub on the left front during the tire change. He had to return to pit road to correct the condition and restarted at the rear of the pack.

Keselowski and Blaney quickly separated themselves from the rest of the field when the green flag dropped. Staying near the front is critical as daylight began to fade. NASCAR has advised the teams they will give a 10-lap notice when conditions warrant a stoppage is necessary for safety reasons.

Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 eCascadia Ford. Photo by James Gilbert / Getty Images

Driving like any lap could be the last Blaney passed for the lead, Keselowski drove back around only to have Ryan retake the spot on the next lap. Hard racing between teammates resulted in some contact allowing Harvick and Almirola to close up and join the fight.

Amazingly, lurking in the rearview mirror of the leaders, Joey Logano managed to gain back his two-lap penalty and was running 7th. His lap times were faster than the Top 4.

Blaney’s car seems to respond to longer runs and he put some distance between himself and Keselowski. With 60 laps to go Almirola had inserted himself into the battle for the top spot. He passed Blaney for the lead.

With 53 laps to go green flag pit stops began. After stops by the leaders cycled through, Almirola led his closest pursuers. Keselowski caught and passed Aric, but when Almirola’s tires came in he moved back around the #2 car.

The Finish

With 40 laps to go DiBenedetto still had not pitted. But, Almirola was closing the gap. Without an announcement from NASCAR, the Woods Brothers strategy is not going to work. The #21 car will have to pit for fuel with around 25 laps to go.

An Almirola win will throw the playoff picture into complete chaos. With 27 laps to go DiBenedetto pitted, Almirola inherited the lead, and Bell took upon himself the role of spoiler as the #20 car was only 1.75 seconds back in 2nd.

With 18 laps to go NASCAR made the announcement, 10 laps to go. Green or yellow, no overtime. Seven laps to go and Almirola is about to lap Austin Dillon(3). If Aric wins the race, Austin will drop out of the Top 16 and be in a battle with his teammate Tyler Reddick for the bubble position.

It takes two laps for Almirola to make the pass, Bell cuts the deficit to less than a second. Bell continues to cut into the lead, but time runs out, and Almirola takes the win by 7/10’s of a second.

Playoff Standings

Almirola’s win was bad news for Richard Childress Racing as they went from two drivers in the playoffs to just one. Another 2021 non-winner, besides Hamlin and Harvick, visiting victory lane in the last 4 races will put them in a must-win situation.

Already in that position are any of the drivers from 18th to 30th in the standings.

Rank Driver POINTS Status
1 Kyle Larson 861 In Win(4)
2 Martin Truex Jr. 696 In Win(3)
3 Alex Bowman 637 In Win(3)
4 Kyle Busch 740 In Win(2)
5 Chase Elliott 736 In Win(2)
6 William Byron 749 In Win
7 Joey Logano 733* In Win
8 Ryan Blaney 689* In Win
9 Brad Keselowski 676* In Win
10 Kurt Busch 552 In Win
11 Christopher Bell 532 In Win
12 Michael McDowell 448* In Win
13 Aric Almirola 377* In Win
14 Denny Hamlin 874 +283
15 Kevin Harvick 673* +82
16 Tyler Reddick 596 +5
NASCAR Playoff Cut Line
17 Austin Dillon 591 -5
18 Chris Buescher 475 -121
19 Matt DiBenedetto 453 -143
20 Ross Chastain 452 -144

*Ford Mustang Drivers

The Cup Series takes two weeks off returning with the Go Bowling at The Glen road race from Watkins Glen International. The Indy Road Course, Michigan, and Daytona remain on the schedule prior to the playoffs beginning at Darlington on September 5th.

Results of the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 from New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Position Car Driver Interval Laps
1 10 Aric Almirola 293
2 20 Christopher Bell 0.697 293
3 2 Brad Keselowski 5.257 293
4 22 Joey Logano 6.373 293
5 12 Ryan Blaney 9.315 293
6 4 Kevin Harvick 9.416 293
7 5 Kyle Larson 15.159 293
8 42 Ross Chastain 17.015 293
9 48 Alex Bowman 20.271 293
10 11 Denny Hamlin 22.747 293
11 21 Matt DiBenedetto 23.787 293
12 19 Martin Truex Jr. 26.720 293
13 8 Tyler Reddick 29.022 293
14 41 Cole Custer 29.739 293
15 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 31.131 293
16 1 Kurt Busch -1 292
17 3 Austin Dillon -1 292
18 9 Chase Elliott -1 292
19 43 Erik Jones -1 292
20 99 Daniel Suarez -1 292
21 24 William Byron -1 292
22 37 Ryan Preece -1 292
23 7 Corey LaJoie -1 292
24 6 Ryan Newman -1 292
25 34 Michael McDowell -1 292
26 23 Bubba Wallace -1 292
27 14 Chase Briscoe -2 291
28 77 Justin Haley -2 291
29 17 Chris Buescher -3 290
30 78 BJ McLeod -5 288
31 51 Cody Ware -8 285
32 38 Anthony Alfredo -8 285
33 53 Garrett Smithley -10 283
34 52 Josh Bilicki -13 280
35 0 Quin Houff -106 187
36 15 James Davison -253 40
37 18 Kyle Busch -285 8