Another week, another upset, and another scramble to NASCAR’s Playoff grid. Aric Almirola won the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Sunday, which became the 293 when NASCAR was forced to shorten the distance due to darkness.
Almirola had been in contention all race long but really came alive in the closing stages taking the lead on lap 246. He would retake the lead after a final round of green flag stops cycled through on lap 273 and chasing darkness would hold off a hard charging Christopher Bell in a final 10 lap sprint to the finish when NASCAR announced the race would end early on lap 283.
“This is by far one of my favorite racetracks,” Almirola said. “I love coming up to the New England area and racing. I love this racetrack. I had this race won a couple years ago and I gave it away. I lost it, and I am so glad to win a race here with this race team.”
The race had a controversial start after heavy overnight rains had track workers drying the track up until the scheduled start. There was a report of “weepers” between turns 1 and 2 during the pace laps, and a mist was falling. NASCAR threw the green and on lap 6 the rains picked up and pole sitter Kyle Busch spun into the wall ending his day.
NASCAR red flagged the race as the rains fell harder, explaining during the delay that the yellow was due to come out for the rain just prior to Busch hitting the wall.
After a one hour and 44-minute stoppage, the race resumed and with no lights on the track, NASCAR warned the field that the race might have to be ended early and they would give a 10 lap to go warning.
Among the early leaders were Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski. Blaney would win Stage 1 which ended at lap 75.
Kevin Harvick who had led over 800 laps at this point in the season last year, but none so far in 2021 would take control in the middle part of the race going on to lead a race high 66 laps and finishing second to Keselowski in Stage 2.
Blaney would rocket to the lead on lap 198 and remain there until lap 246 when Almirola would take the point with what at that time was the fastest car on the track. He would reassume the lead after the pit stops for the final time and go on to score the third win of his NASCAR Cup career, and his first since Talladega in October of 2018.
“That’s what a race car driver lives for,” Almirola said of his final run. “For so long I’ve been so close to winning at some of these racetracks like here, Dover, and I’ve let it slip away. I honestly hated it and my wife has hated it worse than I have. She’s always told me, ‘Honey, I want you to win so badly at somewhere other than a restrictor plate racetrack,’ and we did it today.
“We have been fighting, scratching, clawing and, man, this feels so good to have something pay off for all the hard work, so just really happy. Man, this means so much. It’s hard to explain it, but I love coming up here to New England.”
Bell, who won the Xfinity race on Saturday had to settle for the runner up spot.
“I didn’t know how may laps they cut it short,” Bell said. “But definitely whenever I saw the board and saw that we were eight laps short, it stings man. I felt like I probably had a little better pace than him and I was able to get to him. I know lapped cars were giving him a bad time, but I was able to get to him. It was going to be a heck of a race.
“We didn’t start out the greatest and then we were really good, probably the best we were all day right there at the end of the race. That’s all you can ask for is to have a shot at it and just wish we had eight more laps.”
Keselowski was third, Joey Logano who overcame a 2-lap penalty for working on his car under the red was 4th and Blaney held on for fifth.
Harvick was sixth, Kyle Larson seventh, with Ross Chastain, Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin rounding out the top 10.
With just 2 top 10 finishes in his last 21 starts, Almirola came into New Hampshire as a dark horse. A week after Kurt Busch stunned the field with a win at Atlanta, Almirola leaves Loudon with a spot in NASCAR’s Playoffs leaving just three open spots with four races to go in the regular season.
Currently Hamlin, Harvick, and Tyler Reddick who finished 13th are above the cut line. All, however, are winless. Reddick’s Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon who was 17th Sunday is just 5 points below Reddick who has the final spot.
The NASCAR Cup series has a two-week break and returns to action at Watkins Glen on August 8.
NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Foxwoods Resort Casino 301
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Loudon, New Hampshire
Sunday, July 18, 2021
- (22) Aric Almirola, Ford, 293.
- (9) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 293.
- (11) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 293.
- (15) Joey Logano, Ford, 293.
- (7) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 293.
- (12) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 293.
- (10) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 293.
- (20) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 293.
- (5) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 293.
- (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 293.
- (14) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 293.
- (2) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 293.
- (8) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 293.
- (21) Cole Custer, Ford, 293.
- (29) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 293.
- (4) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 292.
- (13) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 292.
- (3) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 292.
- (24) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 292.
- (31) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 292.
- (16) William Byron, Chevrolet, 292.
- (25) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 292.
- (26) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 292.
- (28) Ryan Newman, Ford, 292.
- (23) Michael McDowell, Ford, 292.
- (18) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 292.
- (19) Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 291.
- (30) Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 291.
- (17) Chris Buescher, Ford, 290.
- (32) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 288.
- (34) Cody Ware(i), Chevrolet, 285.
- (27) Anthony Alfredo #, Ford, 285.
- (33) Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 283.
- (35) Josh Bilicki, Ford, 280.
- (36) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, Accident, 187.
- (37) James Davison, Chevrolet, Clutch, 40.
- (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, Accident, 8.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 99.004 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 7 Mins, 52 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.697 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 6 for 47 laps.
Lead Changes: 14 among 10 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K. Busch 1-6;C. Elliott 7-23;K. Busch 24-25;C. Elliott 26-61;R. Blaney 62-77;B. Keselowski 78;K. Harvick 79-130;D. Hamlin 131;K. Harvick 132-145;B. Keselowski 146-197;R. Blaney 198-245;A. Almirola 246-250;R. Chastain 251-253;M. DiBenedetto 254-273;A. Almirola 274-293.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kevin Harvick 2 times for 66 laps; Ryan Blaney 2 times for 64 laps; Brad Keselowski 2 times for 53 laps; Chase Elliott 2 times for 53 laps; Aric Almirola 2 times for 25 laps; Matt DiBenedetto 1 time for 20 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 6 laps; Ross Chastain 1 time for 3 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 2 laps; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 12,2,9,4,8,20,11,42,21,5
Stage #2 Top Ten: 2,4,12,11,10,9,5,8,42,1