Almirola scores upset win in chaotic New Hampshire race

It may have been difficult see, but Aric Almirola upset the field Sunday at New Hampshire and won his way into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

Race winner Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang
Race winner Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang
Race winner Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang
Race winner Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang

Almirola entered Sunday’s race 27th in the series standings and with no chance to make the 16-driver playoffs without a victory.

With Stewart-Haas Racing’s struggles this season, Sunday’s race on the 1.056-mile oval didn’t appear to be a good opportunity to pick one up.

But with darkness closing in due to an earlier 1 hour, 42-minute rain delay and no lights at the track, Almirola moved into the lead for the first time on Lap 246 of a planned 301.

"This is by far one of my favorite race tracks. I love coming to the New England area and racing," Almirola said. "I love this race track. I had this race won a couple of years ago and I gave it away - I lost it. I'm so glad to win a race here with this race team.

"God is so good. We've been through so much and I've just stood the test and kept the faith. The team, everybody - they've just been working so hard. There have been so many people who have continued to support us through, like, the crappiest year ever. This feels so good for them. 

"All the guys that work on this car, they just keep fighting, they just keep digging. They just keep bringing the best race car they can bring every week. There is no doubt that we have struggled. But guess what? We're going playoff racing."

Following a round of green-flag pit stops, Almirola got around Brad Keselowski to reclaim the lead then held off Christopher Bell for the win as NASCAR cut the race short to 293 laps due to darkness.

The win is the first for Almirola since the 2018 season, third in his career and his first that didn’t come on a superspeedway.

Keselowski ended up third, Joey Logano rallied from a 2-lap penalty to finish fourth and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top-five.

Completing the top-10 were Almirola’s SHR teammate, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain, Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin.

Stage 3

Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, all the lead-lap cars pit with Keselowski the first off pit road. Hamlin was forced to pit twice after a lug nut got caught behind one of his wheels. He lined up 26th on the restart.

The race returned to green on Lap 193 with Keselowski followed by Harvick, Blaney and Almirola.

Blaney went to the inside of Keselowski and came away with the lead on Lap 198.

With 80 laps remaining, Blaney continued to hold Keselowski at bay while Almirola had made his way into third.

NASCAR indicated that it may need to shorten the race due to darkness or weather and if it made the decision, there would be 10 laps remaining and no overtimes.

With 65 laps to go, Almirola caught Keselowski for second-place and finally got caught him on Lap 237, trailing leader Blaney by about a second.

On Lap 244, Almirola had closed to Blaney’s rear bumper and began trying to work around him for the lead.

 

Finally, on Lap 246, Almirola went to the inside of Blaney and was able to clear him for the lead.

Elliott became the first of the cars to hit pit road for a final green-flag pit stop with 53 laps remaining. Keselowski and Harvick soon followed.

Once the cycle of stops was completed on Lap 274, Almirola emerged as the race leader again after a tough battle for position with Keselowski.

At 8:05 p.m. ET, NASCAR deemed it too dark to continue and declared 10 laps remained in the race. Almirola had a 1.3-second lead over Bell as Keselowski ran third.

Stage 2

Once Keselowski got control of the race, he easily held off Harvick to claim the Stage 2 win, just his second stage victory of the 2021 season.

Blaney was third, Hamlin fourth and Almirola rounded out the top-five.

Following the break between Stages 1 and 2, the lead-lap cars all pit with Harvick the first off pit road.

On the restart on Lap 83, Harvick was followed by Hamlin, Tyler Reddick, Keselowski and Chase Elliott.

With 75 laps remaining in the second stage, Harvick maintained a 1.5-second lead over Elliott with Keselowski running in third.

On Lap 128, Quin Houff wrecked in Turn 3 after contact with Ryan Newman to bring out a caution.

All lead-lap cars elected to pit and once again was first off pit road. When the race returned to green on Lap 136, Harvick was followed by Hamlin, Keselowski, Elliott and Almirola.

On Lap 139, Bubba Wallace and Chris Buescher wrecked on the backstretch to bring out the fifth caution of the race.

 

The race got back underway on Lap 145 with Harvick still in command, Hamlin second and Keselowski third.

Keselowski worked his way around the outside of Harvick on Lap 146 to take the lead for just the second time in the race.

With 20 laps remaining in the second stage, Keselowski maintained a 1.3-second lead over Harvick while Blaney had worked his way back up to third.

Stage 1

Blaney held off his Penske teammate, Keselowski, to take the Stage 1 win, his fourth stage victory of the 2021 season.

Elliott was third, Harvick fourth and Reddick rounded out the top-five.

Kyle Busch started on the pole and led the first six laps until he spun and backed into the wall as a heavy mist picked up quickly at the track. Before NASCAR could throw the caution, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. both got collected in the incident as well.

NASCAR red-flagged the race with seven laps completed as the track became soaked. The race finally returned to yellow following a 1-hour, 42-minute delay.

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Logano was assessed a two-lap penalty for his crew working on his No. 22 Ford during the red flag period.

When the race returned to green on Lap 24, Elliott led the way followed by Kurt Busch, Bowman, Bell and Blaney.

Kurt Busch quickly powered around Elliott after the restart to grab the lead for the first time in the race. Elliott returned the favor and reclaimed the lead on Lap 26.

On Lap 32, Anthony Alfredo spun down the frontstretch after contact with Wallace to bring out another caution.

A handful of cars pit under the caution but Elliott remained on the track and in the lead when the race resumed on Lap 39.

With 20 laps to go in the first stage, Elliott held a half-second lead over Blaney while Keselowski moved into third.

On Lap 62, Blaney ran down Elliott and completed a pass to the inside to take over the race lead.

With five laps remaining, Blaney had already built a 1.2-second lead over Elliott as Keselowski ran third.

Wallace, Ryan Preece and Corey LaJoie all had to start the race from the rear of the field – Preece and LaJoie for pre-race inspection failures and Wallace due to unapproved adjustments.

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