July 23, 2018 / 2:48 AM / 5 months ago

NASCAR notebook: Almirola scores bittersweet third-place finish

LOUDON, N.H. - Despite a slow pit stop and a poor restart, Aric Almirola finished third in Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was hardly enthused about his best result of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

FILE PHOTO: Jul 13, 2018; Sparta, KY, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Aric Almirola (10) pulls off the track during practice for the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Almirola was leading the race when teammate Clint Bowyer slammed the Turn 3 wall to bring out the seventh and last caution of the race on Lap 256 of 301. Pitting under caution, Almirola lost two spots because of trouble with his left front tire.

On the subsequent restart on Lap 263, he spun his tires, fell back to sixth and had to claw his way back to third at the finish. Almirola lost a chance for his first victory in a Stewart-Haas car, and for that reason, the result was disappointing.

“You think I’d be really excited to run top five, and I’m not,” Almirola said. “We had the best car, hands down. There’s no doubt in my mind. We gave it away on pit road, and then I gave it away again on the restart. I spun the tires on the restart and didn’t even give myself a fighting chance, so I’m just really frustrated.

“Chicago, we had a car capable of winning. And we didn’t execute today again with another car capable of winning, and we didn’t get our Smithfield Ford Fusion in Victory Lane. It’s just frustrating. They say you’ve got to lose some before you win some, and I feel like we’ve lost some now, and it’s time to stop it and go to Victory Lane.”

CHASE ELLIOTT SHOWS PROMISING SPEED WITH STAGE WIN AT LOUDON

At the end of the second stage Sunday, Chase Elliott tracked down reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. and passed him for the lead.

Eighteen laps later, Elliott took the green/checkered flag for his first stage victory and first Playoff point of the season. Ultimately, Elliott came home fifth, his only top-10 finish in five starts at the Magic Mile.

What’s more, to a Hendrick Motorsports organization that hasn’t posted a victory this season, the speed Elliott showed was a promising sign.

“I was shocked, to be honest with you, that we ran even that good,” said Elliott, who also finished second in Stage 1 and led 23 laps. “Our whole NAPA group did a great job overnight. I really have no idea where that came from. I hope it wasn’t dumb luck. Hopefully we can keep it rolling because it’s really nice to be able to go up there and lead some laps.

“I know it wasn’t the right part of the race, but still, leading laps for us is big compared to what we’ve been doing. I’m proud of the effort. I appreciate everybody’s effort back at Hendrick and the chassis shop and engine shop and Chevrolet and all the folks that are working hard to try to get better. We took a step in the right direction.”

PIT ROAD SNAFU DERAILS KURT BUSCH’S STRONG RUN AT MAGIC MILE

Kurt Busch started from the pole Sunday and led a race-high 94 laps, but a miscue on pit road during a green-flag stop on Lap 227 of 301 cost him a chance to score his first victory of the season.

Busch rolled down pit road toward the No. 1 stall, but Ryan Blaney’s Ford was already parked in the stall immediately behind Busch’s. The jack dropped on Blaney’s car, and Busch’s crew chief, Billy Scott, yelled “Stop” over the radio, thinking that Blaney was on the verge of leaving his stall.

But Blaney didn’t move, as a courtesy to Busch, and after losing several precious seconds, Busch proceeded to his pit box. But the damage was done. Busch was running fifth when he returned to the track, and subsequent restarts in the bottom lane cost him even more positions.

Busch finished eighth in a car that was capable of running with the best.

“We ended up (pitting) on the same lap as Blaney,” Busch said. “That’s just bad luck or bad communication between two crew chiefs. And then the crew chief is like, ‘He’ll be gone by the time you get there.’ And I initially thought that, and then they were still hanging left-side tires and I was like, ‘Oh no, oh no. He’s gonna be there.’

“If I would have come around him, I would have blocked him huge. I would have been at a bad angle, and that was just one of those, ‘We’re two guys walking down the hallway, and we bumped into each other and had to hold each other up.’ That just kind of pushed us back too far on the final restart, and I didn’t get a good last restart.

“If we could have come off pit road in fourth, it might have been a whole different race. I think that might have been where (race winner Kevin) Harvick might have been or the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.), but we were in the mix today. That’s what counts. We had a Playoff type of day today.”

The bottom line?

“You just aren’t supposed to pit on the same lap they do under green,” Busch said. “That was a fundamental mistake.”

—By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

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