LOUDON, NH. - Aric Almirola, who has struggled most of the season, got a much-needed victory as he outdueled a handful of drivers down the stretch to win Sunday’s rain-delayed NASCAR Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Almirola, who came into the race 27th in the point standings, seemingly came out of nowhere in the final stage to get to the front. He passed fellow Ford driver Ryan Blaney with 55 laps to go to take the lead, but with darkness rapidly approaching, it was anyone’s guess as to if the race would go the full 301 laps.
A series of green flag pit stops that started with 53 laps to go added to the drama, which included Matt DiBenedetto staying out hoping for NASCAR officials to call the race and give the Wood Brothers their 100th victory. That didn’t happen and when DiBenedetto was forced to pit road on lap 274, Almirola inherited the lead.
NASCAR gave the teams a 10-lap countdown just as Christopher Bell was gaining ground, thanks in part to lap traffic. However, Almirola was able to maintain his lead and register the third win of his career and fourth straight for Ford at NHMS.
Ford dominated the entire race, which was halted eight laps from the advertised distance because of a 1 hour and 41 minute delay for rain, by winning all three stages and leading 228 of the 293 laps completed.
Brad Keselowski won the second stage and finished third while Joey Logano, who was penalized two laps for a red flag violation, recovered for fourth. Ryan Blaney, who took the first stage, was fifth while Kevin Harvick was sixth as Ford claimed five of the top six spots.
The NASCAR Cup Series will now take a two-week break for the Olympics and return to action on Sunday, Aug. 8 at Watkins Glen International..
NCS RACE TOP-10 FINISHERS
1st -- Aric Almirola
2nd -- Christopher Bell
3rd -- Brad Keselowski
4th -- Joey Logano
5th -- Ryan Blaney
6th -- Kevin Harvick
7th -- Kyle Larson
8th -- Ross Chastain
9th -- Alex Bowman
10th -- Denny Hamlin
REMAINING FORD FINISHERS
11th -- Matt DiBenedetto
14th -- Cole Custer
24th -- Ryan Newman
25th -- Michael McDowell
27th -- Chase Briscoe
29th -- Chris Buescher
30th -- B.J. McLeod
32nd -- Anthony Alfredo
34th -- Josh Bilicki
ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang -- VICTORY LANE INTERVIEW -- DID YOU SEE THAT PERFORMANCE COMING THIS MORNING? “Honestly, I did. This is by far one of my favorite racetracks. 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. 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. Smithfield, Ford, Go Bowling, Pit Boss Grills, everybody, Honeystinger, Shady Rays Sunglasses. There have been so many people that have just continued to support us through the crappiest year ever, and, man, this feels so good for them. My pit crew, they did a phenomenal job on pit road. All the guys that work on this car, they just keep fighting. They just keep digging, bringing the best race car they can bring every week and it is no doubt, we have struggled, but, guess what? We’re going playoff racing.”
HOW ABOUT THOSE LAST 50 LAPS? MAYBE THE HARDEST 50 LAPS YOU’VE EVER RACED TO BEAT BLANEY< KESELOWSKI AND BELL. “Yeah, that’s what a race car driver lives for and 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. I’m so proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing, Roush Yates Engine Shop. 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. You fans are awesome in this area.”
BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 2 eCascadia Ford Mustang -- “The 10 was just lights-out fast that last run, or the last two runs, and just drove by everybody. It was pretty amazing. We were good, but we weren’t great, so a solid day.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CALL TO SHORTEN IT? “Yeah, it was pretty smart. You’ve got to keep in mind that what you can see on TV is not what you can see in the car. We see a lot less in the car than you can even on site, so whether it’s Circuit of the Americas where we had no visibility or here bad things happen when you can’t see.”
TEAM PENSKE AND FORD HAVE BEEN GOOD HERE LATELY. WHAT MADE FORD SO GOOD TODAY? “I don’t know. It seems like we’re a little better on the 750s than the 550s. We’re probably a little closer on the package.”
RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards/Tarkett Ford Mustang -- “I thought we were pretty good. We just got loose when the sun started to go down and as it got darker we got looser and just couldn’t really keep up with that. We kind of fell off the pace there at the end. When we had the lead I was kind of riding around and I knew Aric and the 2 were there and I was trying to manage my tires, but as soon as Aric got by the 2 he was on me incredibly quick and I couldn’t push any harder. Overall, not a bad run. The three best cars in the top five is not bad, just still have to keep doing a little work, but we’re getting there.”
WAS THAT MORE FUN OR FRUSTRATING RACING WITH BRAD FOR THE LEAD? “I had more fun when I was behind him and I’m sure he had more fun when he was behind me because you could kind of get each other loose. You just put it on the left-rear and get him free pretty easy and, like I said, I thought I was gonna drive away when I got in front of Brad, but then he put the pressure on me like I did him and just kept getting me loose and loose just with air. I couldn’t get away, but that was a blast. That was a lot of fun and that’s something. I’ve always enjoyed racing Brad. He gave me my start in trucks, so that was a lot of fun racing for the lead like that.”
BRAD SAID TODAY WAS A CASE FOR NOT PUTTING THE PJ1 DOWN. DO YOU AGREE? “Yeah. I thought it put on a great show with no PJ1, just less grip out there. It felt like there was a little bit of a grip change, like the track was darker in the first and third lane, but it was like almost gone. I didn’t feel much PJ1. I just thought the track was pretty wide, so I think the place doesn’t need PJ1 at all.”
DID THEY CALL IT EARLY? “I’m happy because I was trying my butt off to keep the 4 behind me. I didn’t see the lead. From my seat, I’m glad they did because I don’t know if I could have held the 4 off for eight more laps.”
JOEY LOGANO, No. 22 Autotrader Ford Mustang -- “We had a really fast Autotrader Mustang. When you come to your home track all you want to do is win. A straight kick to the gut to start the race with a piece of rubber getting in the linkage, the throttle linkage, and not letting me get wide-open. All we did was take a picture under the red flag, underneath the hood to see what was under there. We took a picture with a camera phone and they gave us a two-lap penalty for that. I understand the rules are the rules, but it’s also a safety factor and the last thing you want is a throttle to stick and get hurt. I don’t know. Hindsight is 20/20, but you would never know what it was if you didn’t take a picture, but it still had the piece of rubber in it. It’s frustrating. We got a good finish out of it, but it’s frustrating when you’re at your home track and you feel like you could have got a win out of it, out of a safety issue that we got a penalty for.”
WITHOUT THE PENALTY YOU FELT YOU HAD A GOOD SHOT TO WIN? “Absolutely. As much as you fight through a field over and over again you beat up your car a lot. You wear tires out a lot. If you get up front, you can set your pace and save stuff and you can be a lot faster. We passed the whole field three or four times trying to get lucky dogs and move up there. I definitely felt like we had the best car we’ve had all season, in my opinion.”
WERE THESE THE BEST CARS FOR PENSKE AND FORD ALL YEAR? “Yeah, I’d say so. Probably the best car I’ve had all season and when you see other teammates up there battling for the lead at one point you feel like we brought some good stuff. This has been a good track for us. Brad has been really good here in the past and I think we all probably learned a lot from him and his style here that’s made us all competitive.”
THEY CUT THE RACE EIGHT LAPS SHORT FOR DARKNESS. COULD YOU SEE? “I don’t know if eight laps is gonna change anything. Maybe. Maybe I could have caught the 2 and got another spot. I was able to catch him quite a bit there. I didn’t know what was going on for the lead. I don’t know if it was close or not, but it was getting dark. I don’t know. I wasn’t in the lead, so I would say keep racing. I’d still say keep racing because I’m not in the lead.”
MATT DIBENEDETTO, No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang -- WHAT WERE YOU HOPING WHEN YOU HAD THE LEAD LATE AND IT WAS GETTING DARKER? “I was hoping they were gonna throw the 10 to go when we were leading. It was getting pretty dark. Hassler and our guys made a great attempt and call trying to snag one there. We started off and had to really crank on it today, and we got it way better. Then we stayed out and knew we’d sacrifice some track position if it did stay green and we didn’t get the 10 to go deal and we didn’t. But we did a two-tire deal and made it work and instead of finishing eighth we finished 11th and it was totally worth the gamble, so great job.”
WERE YOU THINKING YOU WERE DUE A BREAK WHEN YOU WERE LEADING? AT WHAT POINT DO YOU SAY THIS IS A TIME WHERE THE BREAK HAS TO GO YOUR WAY? “I was definitely hoping so. I looked at it two different ways. One, was that. Two, was here we are turning a day where we were off from the start into what was gonna be another top 10. If we didn’t throw a Hail Mary, instead of finishing 11th we would have been eighth, so it just shows yet again that even on our bad day we were gonna run top 10, so it just shows the strength of our team. So there were two ways to look at it.”
YOU HOVERED AROUND 10TH ALL DAY. “We took it from around that 10th area and there was a lot of green flag racing where we got the car way better to where we were running lap times comparable to the leaders. We just really had to crank on it. It just shows how good our team is. There are still a lot of proud things to take out of it.”
CHASE BRISCOE, No. 14 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang -- “That was a long day. We weren’t that great to start and then at the beginning of the second stage our motor shut off and that kind of put us behind. We were able to get the lucky dog, but wasn’t really that great all day. Then at the end, I don’t know, we just missed something and went really bad all of a sudden. That was unfortunate, but I’m glad our teammate was able to win, but it was a long, long day for us.”