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Aric Almirola wins NASCAR Cup race at New Hampshire, qualifies for playoffs

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Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

LOUDON, NH (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Aric Almirola’s disastrous 2021 season is taking a turn for the better after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday.

Almirola came into the race without a win, mired in 27th place in the Cup Series points standings thanks in-part to only 1-Top 5 and 2-Top 10’s this season, where he’s led only 26-laps before Sunday’s win.

“There’s been so many people that have just continued to support us through, like, the crappiest year ever,” said Almirola on the front stretch after the race.  “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.”

Almirola’s victory clearly shook up the NASCAR Playoffs standings.  Sixteen drivers will qualify for the playoffs.  Only race winners and the remaining teams inside the top 16 qualify.  With Almirola’s win, only three spots remain

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell finished second, just missing the weekend sweep after taking the Xfinity Series checkered flag on Saturday at New Hampshire.

Bell was not happy that NASCAR shortened the race because of darkness.

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“I didn’t know how may laps they cut it short, but definitely whenever I saw the board and saw that we were eight laps short, it stings man,” said Bell.  “We didn’t start out the greatest and then we were really good, probably the best we were all day right there at the end of the race. That’s all you can ask for is to have a shot at it and just wish we had eight more laps.”

The Team Penske trio of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney rounded out the Top 5.

Kyle Busch started on the pole position and led the first 5-laps and was heading into turn one on Lap 6 when a wet track surface caused Busch and teammate Martin Truex Jr to spin and crash.

“We started the race under a mist,” explained Busch. “It never should have gone green to begin with, but then it kept getting worse and worse lap over lap. We’ve been talking about it for two laps that it was raining. There’s no sense in saying what I want to say, it doesn’t do you any good.”

Several drivers at the front of the pack also realized the track was wet and some spun and some were able to slow down.

Busch got the worst end of the deal as his car could not be repaired and was loaded on the truck.  Busch was credited with a 37th place finish.

The NASCAR Cup Series is off next weekend.

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NASCAR

Martin Truex Jr. leads Joe Gibbs Racing 1-2-3 at Richmond

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RICHMOND, VA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Martin Truex Jr. overcame a first lap penalty for jumping the start of the race and came back to win Saturday night’s NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders at Richmond Raceway.

Truex beat Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell for the win, which automatically advances Truex to the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Playoffs that begins in two weeks at Las Vegas.

“I let the 11 (Hamlin) get a nose out in front of me to get the launch first,” explained Truex about the start of the race.  “I wasn’t going to jump him, and then he spun the tires and stopped. What am I supposed to do, stand on the brakes and crash the field behind me?”

Fortunately Truex didn’t crash the field behind him but he was sent to pit road to serve the penalty, which left him the last car in the field.

Hamlin, who led a race-high 197-laps, held on for second place and is also locked into the Round of 12 after his win last weekend at Darlington.

“The whole JGR team had fast cars for all of us today. I really wish we had gotten two in a row, but regardless still a great day for the team,” Hamlin said.

Chase Elliott rallied for a fourth place finish after having losing a lap after trouble in the pits.

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Joey Logano finished fifth with Kyle Larson in sixth.  Larson is also locked into the Round of 12 on points.

Four playoff drivers head into Bristol outside of the Top 12 and need to either win or score a ton of points in order to advance.

Hendrick Motorsports Alex Bowman sits in 12th spot after a 12th place finish at Richmond.  Bowman is tied in points with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch but Busch wins the tiebreaker by having the best finish in the round.  Tyler Reddick, William Byron and Michael McDowell are also on the outside looking in.

Busch was having a great run and even came off pit road in the lead following the competition caution on lap 32 but disaster struck on lap 42.

“Something happened in that left rear,” explained Busch. “It let go and it let go of our points and it let go of our whole season right now.”

Cup Richmond Results

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NASCAR

Ryan Blaney wins NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale at Daytona; Larson top playoff seed

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DAYTONA BEACH, FL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney picked up his second straight NASCAR Cup Series victory winning Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Blaney was out front on the last lap when a multi-car crash occurred in the last turn during NASCAR overtime to seal the victory for the driver and No. 12 Ford Mustang crew.

“Cool to get our second win in a row,” said Blaney. “Got a great push by Corey LaJoie. That was the big push that got us ahead to the lead. I think he pushed me so good, I mean, me, Corey and the 4 all got single file. We were able to be ahead there when that last wreck on the backstretch happened.”

LaJoie was one of nine-cars involved in that Turn 3 crash on the final lap.  Four of the drivers,  Austin Dillon, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez and LaJoie, needed a victory to qualify for the Playoffs.

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Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick earned the 16th Playoff position, beating out teammate Austin Dillon for the final spot.

Kyle Larson claimed NASCAR’s regular season title based on the strength of his series-leading five victories in 2021.

The back-to-back victories moved Blaney into the second spot in the Playoffs followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch in third and fourth.

2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott is fifth followed by his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman in sixth.  Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin is seventh and William Byron is eighth.  Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski round out the Top 10.

The final six playoff seeds include Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch, JGR’s Christopher Bell, this year’s Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell, Stewart Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola, Reddick and former Cup Champ Kevin Harvick.

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NASCAR

Blaney Grabs Win At Michigan

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BROOKLYN, MI (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney led the final eight laps to win Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway.  Blaney took the lead on a restart to pick up his second win of the year and sixth of his career.

“Man, I’m proud of everybody on the 12 team,” said Blaney. “We weren’t great to start the day off. We kept working and working and got a lot better. It’s so cool to get in Victory Lane for Ford here. This is such a huge win for Ford, Penske, Menards, Cardell, Bodyarmor. I can’t thank them enough, what they do. That was cool, man. I’m fired up. I’m fired up.”

Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson finished second and third followed by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch in fourth.

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“I had points on my mind a little bit too much,” said Larson. I’m looking in my mirror. I saw the 11 (Denny Hamlin) falling back some. I just didn’t want to screw it up really.  I felt like I had to weigh the risk versus reward. I could risk going for the win, not having it work out, end up 30 something and lose the point lead going into Daytona or I could be a little bit more cautious, beat Denny by a couple spots, which is what we did.”

Hamlin finished fifth and trails Larson by 28-points going into NASCAR’s regular season finale, the Coke Zero 400, Saturday August 28th at 7:00 p.m. at Daytona International Speedway.

Michigan Cup Results

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