DOVER, Del. - It was a case of déjà vu Aric Almirola didn’t want to see again. Almirola was leading Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway with eight laps left. Right in front of him was his first victory of the season and a guaranteed transfer into the Round of 8 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
But Almirola’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Clint Bowyer, smacked the Turn 4 wall on Lap 392 of a scheduled 400, bringing out the caution and sending some cars down pit road — including Almirola. The No. 10 car came out behind two cars that took only two tires on the stop and three cars that stayed out, leaving him in sixth on the Lap 397 restart.
After exiting Turn 2 on the restart lap, Almirola tapped the outside wall on the backstretch and triggered a five-car accident — all of them still in the playoffs — that ended his winning chances. Almirola rolled home in 13th place and fell into a tie for ninth in the standings with Bowyer.
Coincidentally, in the July race at New Hampshire, Bowyer also caused the final caution when Almirola had a good-sized lead.
“We’ve had so many opportunities and been so close and had the car to win and been in position, and I don’t know, it just seems to not come through,” a disconsolate Almirola said after the race. “I don’t know. I’m frustrated and mad and angry. I don’t know. I could have been conservative and probably finish third or fourth like Kurt (Busch).
“It’s just track position is so tough, and it’s so hard to pass here. On that restart, I tried to at least go where they weren’t to the top, and the 11 (runner-up Denny Hamlin) moved up to kind of block me, and I just got really tight off of (Turn) 2, and I bounced off the fence and got into Brad (Keselowski) and tore up a lot of race cars along the back straightaway.
“I hate that for everybody that was involved, but it kind of killed our day, too. I don’t know. I feel like we should be over there in Victory Lane celebrating, but we’re not.”
Kevin Harvick did everything right — until a fluke occurrence on pit road cost him a chance to win.
Harvick had led 286 of the first 321 laps before a lug nut knocked the valve stem off his left rear tire during a green-flag tire change. Harvick had to return to pit road two laps later and lost a lap in the process.
Though he eventually regained the lost lap as the highest-scored lapped car under caution for debris on Lap 339, Harvick couldn’t climb higher than sixth place before the race ended in overtime with Chase Elliott the winner.
Harvick did manage to dodge a late wreck that collected five less-fortunate playoff drivers.
“We were just lucky there and wound up dodging and weaving and being in the right place, so maybe that makes up for the bad luck on losing the race with an absolute dominant car,” Harvick said.
Harvick won the first and second stages of the race and left the Monster Mile with the series lead by five points over Kyle Busch. But that was little consolation after Sunday’s disappointment.
“I don’t really care about points,” Harvick said. “I’d rather win.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON CAN’T ANSWER THE BELL IN DOVER DEBACLE
After last week’s close call at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, Jimmie Johnson was a logical choice to contend for a victory at Dover International Speedway, where he has accumulated 11 of his 83 career victories.
But when the green flag waved at the Monster Mile, Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet wasn’t even on the track.
With what was eventually diagnosed as a lower ball joint failure, Johnson took his car to the garage for repairs and didn’t reappear on the concrete until the Gander Outdoors 400 was 10 laps old. After a subsequent pit road penalty, he finished 36th, 17 laps down.
The mechanical failure was a continuation of the ill fortune the seven-time champion had suffered at Charlotte, where his attempted pass of Martin Truex Jr. on the last lap ended in an accident that knocked Johnson out of the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, suggested that Johnson could atone for the Charlotte wreck by giving Truex’s crew road bikes, so Johnson went shopping, bought a trove of girls’ bicycles and placed them on the No. 78 hauler before the crew arrived.
But the frivolity quickly turned to frustration when Johnson failed to start Sunday’s race.
—Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.