DOVER, Del. - It looked like a Ford victory was all but assured in Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway as drivers from Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske dominated all afternoon. In the end, a series of on-track misfortune led to Chase Elliott winning in an overtime finish to advance to the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Playoffs.
It was a day in which Ford drivers led 372-of-404 laps and Kevin Harvick won the first two stages with ease. All seven Ford Playoff drivers ran in the top 10 for much of the race, and when Harvick suffered an unlucky break that saw a lugnut knock off the valve stem on a green flag pit stop, forcing him to pit a second time, it looked like Aric Almirola would be the beneficiary.
Almirola assumed the lead on lap 323 and after caution came out for debris with 61 laps remaining, he restarted second to Brad Keselowski after crew chief Paul Wolfe called for two tires on the team’s pit stop. Almirola quickly got past Keselowski in turn four of the restart with 52 laps to go and set sail. He was comfortably in front and even though teammate Kurt Busch was starting to catch him, it appeared he would hold on for his second career win.
That didn’t happen, however, as Clint Bowyer, who had been running in the top three most of the day, suffered a mechanical problem and hit the wall to bring out the caution with eight laps to go. Almirola and others came down pit road, but differing strategies jumbled the restart. Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. stayed out while Denny Hamlin and Alex Bowman took two tires. Almirola took four and restarted sixth.
On the ensuing restart with four to go, Almirola tried to make up ground on the outside, but he hit the wall, which carried him into Keselowski. The two cars received damage and even though they were able to continue, it took away any final hopes at victory.
The race was red-flagged after the incident and set up an overtime finish. Elliott and Hamlin started on the front row with Joey Logano poised to challenge in third, but he was never able to mount a challenge and settled for third. Kurt Busch finished fifth while Harvick rebounded for a sixth-place showing. Almirola ended up 11th, Keselowski 12th and Bowyer 35th.
The Round of 12 continues at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday at 2 p.m. on NBC.
MONSTER ENERGY CUP RACE TOP-10 FINISHERS
1st -- Chase Elliott
2nd -- Denny Hamlin
3rd -- Joey Logano
4th -- Erik Jones
5th -- Kurt Busch
6th -- Kevin Harvick
7th -- Austin Dillon
8th -- Kyle Busch
9th -- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
10th -- Daniel Suarez
REMAINING FORD FINISHERS
11th -- Ryan Blaney
13th -- Aric Almirola
14th -- Brad Keselowski
16th -- Paul Menard
20th -- Matt Kenseth
24th -- David Ragan
26th -- Michael McDowell
27th -- Matt DiBenedetto
35th -- Clint Bowyer
CLINT BOWYER, No. 14 Haas VF1/Rush Truck Centers Ford Fusion – Finished 35th
“We broke and I hit the wall. I’m just really disappointed. I’m frustrated with our day, obviously, we had a very fast race car. I got tore up passing a lapper and then all of a sudden we had a loose wheel, I think it was a loose wheel, and then we went back out and broke something in the front end and it was two different things. When we pitted it was something in the rear, obviously, the right-rear, the left-rear was loose, it was all out of control, and then all of a sudden we went back out it was fine, so I took back off and then I think something in the left-front broke, it just went straight – whether I ran over something, I don’t know. I’m just sick for Aric. He had that race won. It was his win and unfortunately his teammate had trouble and took him out of it.”
KEVIN HARVICK, No. 4 Busch Outdoors Ford Fusion –Finished 6th
IS THAT BEATING YOURSELF OR JUST UNLUCKY ON THAT PIT STOP? “Best I can tell a lugnut knocked it off.” DO YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT COMING BACK LIKE YOU DID? YOU HAVE A 68-POINT CUSHION? “I would have rather won.” WAS THAT CAR BETTER THAN WHAT YOU HAD IN THE SPRING? “I don’t know if it was better, but it was good.” HOW DID YOU GET THROUGH THAT WRECK AT THE END? “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.” HOW MUCH CAN YOU TAKE ABOUT WINNING THE FIRST TWO STAGES AND ADDING A COUPLE OF BONUS POINTS? “I don’t really care about points. I’d rather win.”
ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion – Finished 13th
“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. 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, 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 moved up to kind of block me and I just got really tight off of two and I bounced off the fence and got into Brad 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.” WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENT? “I don’t know. Johnny is in a tough spot right there. I mean, they’re gonna do the opposite of whatever we do, so if we stay out, we’re a sitting duck on old tires and everybody is gonna come get tires behind us. We rolled down pit road and a few of them stay out and a few of them get two tires and the next thing you know we’re restarting sixth, so with only three laps to go it’s really challenging at this race track in particular with it being so hard to pass. That’s one of those situations where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I feel like Johnny made the right call. We had a great car. It was really firing off on the restarts really fast and to come get four tires on it and be on offense. We’ve talked about that a lot this year about putting ourselves in situations to be on offense and we were. We put ourselves in position and it didn’t work out. I think it would have been different had we started on the second row, starting sixth was really difficult.” WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND LOOKING AT VICTORY LANE AFTER THE RACE? “I want to be there. I want to be in Victory Lane. I feel like we’ve got a car capable of doing that.”