Aric Almirola surprises with Foxwoods 301 victory

A race that started disastrously for NASCAR ended with the Cup Series playoff picture being turned on its head. Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway began with chaos as the race proceeded despite obvious rain conditions, resulting in the leader wrecking and a red flag. The lengthy delay from waiting out the weather led to the distance being shortened by ten laps as the track does not have lights, which bought Aric Almirola enough time to find a glimmer in what has been a difficult season by scoring his and Stewart-Haas Racing‘s first wins of the year.

Kyle Busch started on the pole and led the first six laps before Mother Nature kicked off the turmoil. The ensuing rain resulted in Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing team-mates Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin spinning, with Busch hitting the wall and ending his race to give him the dubious honour of being a last-place-finishing pole-sitter. Busch made his frustrations known by bumping the pace car multiple times during the ensuing caution, an action that NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said would not result in punishment as Busch was already retired from the race.

The decision to keep the race going despite the weather was slammed by many, who drew comparisons to the 2001 All-Star Race and IndyCar’s 2011 New Hampshire race as both sanctioning bodies elected to proceed in wet conditions. NASCAR had experimented with wet tyres on ovals in April, but opted not to bring them to the race. Truex said during the ensuing red flag that “slicks don’t stick to water. […]

“The lap before I went into (turn) one and about did the same thing and I hollered on the radio that the track is wet, like wet, wet. I tried to back it down and I got in there and it just kept going. I couldn’t even slow it down. At some point you have to turn the wheel and that’s when it spins out.”

“We started the race under a mist. It never should have gone green to begin with, but then it kept getting worse and worse lap over lap,” commented Bsuch. “The lap before I went into (turn) one and it shoved the nose really bad and I was able to keep it under control. It wasn’t bad enough. The next time I went down there, I lifted at the flag stand—maybe a little past the flag stand, don’t get too dramatic—and just backed it in. 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.”

The race resumed over an hour and forty minutes later with Chase Elliott as the new leader. Ryan Blaney would take the stage win ahead of Team Penske team-mate Brad Keselowski, Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Hamlin, Ross Chastain, Matt DiBenedetto, and Kyle Larson.

The second stage was dominated by the Fords of Keselowski and Harvick, who would finish 1–2. Two wrecks took place beginning with Ryan Newman turning Quin Houff, prompting an exchange of words on Twitter between the latter and Newman’s Roush Fenway Racing team. After RFR responded to Houff’s radio threats of going after Newman with “ok have fun with that”, Houff answered, “I have respect for equipment and those that work on the cars. I have lost respect for the driver. Look forward to hearing your announcement on Tuesday!”

The announcement in question almost certainly refers to Keselowski’s plans to join Roush as co-owner and driver, with speculation suggesting he will replace Newman in the #6.

Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Another accident came on lap 140 between Newman’s team-mate Chris Buescher and Bubba Wallace, incidentally a former RFR driver himself. By the end of Stage #2, Keselowski led Harvick, Blaney, Hamlin, Almirola, Elliott, Larson, Reddick, Chastain, and Kurt Busch.

The final stage ran completely green with Keselowski continuing to lead at thee start. Blaney, Almirola, Chastain, and DiBenedetto would also trade spots as the lack of cautions meant pit strategy played a role. Almirola took the lead on lap 274 but faced pressure from Bell—winner of the Xfinity Series event on Saturday—and lapped traffic, with a particular skirmish taking place between Almirola and Austin Dillon as both were fighting for the final playoff spots. Although Dillon’s blocking impeded Almirola’s momentum and allowed Bell to catch up, the leader was able to get by.

Impending darkness prompted NASCAR to shorten the race by ten laps as New Hampshire Motor Speedway does not have lights. Despite Bell closing the margin, he could not catch Almirola as he kept him at bay for his third career win, first since Talladega 2018, first at the Cup level not at a superspeedway, and first in any NASCAR series not at Talladega or Daytona since the 2010 Camping World Truck Series at Michigan.

The victory also comes with great relief for Almirola and SHR as the two have endured a challenging season. Entering Loudon, Almirola was twenty-seventh in points while he and his team-mates had failed to score a win.

“This is by far one of my favorite race tracks,” Almirola stated in a post-race interview. “I love coming up to the New England area and racing. I love this race track. 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.”

Almirola’s starting position of twenty-second is the worst for a Loudon Cup winner since Hamlin won in 2012 from thirty-second. The win also secures Ford’s fourth straight at the mile-long track.

Race results

Finish Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer Laps Status
1 22 10 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 293 Running
2 9 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 293 Running
3 11 2 Brad Keselowski Team Penske Ford 293 Running
4 15 22 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford 293 Running
5 7 12 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford 293 Running
6 12 4 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 293 Running
7 10 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 293 Running
8 20 42 Ross Chastain Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet 293 Running
9 5 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 293 Running
10 6 11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 293 Running
11 14 21 Matt DiBenedetto Wood Brothers Racing Ford 293 Running
12 2 19 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 293 Running
13 8 8 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 293 Running
14 21 41 Cole Custer Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 293 Running
15 29 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 293 Running
16 4 1 Kurt Busch Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet 292 Running
17 13 3 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 292 Running
18 3 9 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 292 Running
19 24 43 Erik Jones Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet 292 Running
20 31 99 Daniel Suárez Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 292 Running
21 16 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 292 Running
22 25 37 Ryan Preece JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 292 Running
23 26 7 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 292 Running
24 28 6 Ryan Newman Roush Fenway Racing Ford 292 Running
25 23 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford 292 Running
26 18 23 Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing Toyota 292 Running
27 19 14 Chase Briscoe Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 291 Running
28 30 77 Justin Haley* Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 291 Running
29 17 17 Chris Buescher Roush Fenway Racing Ford 290 Running
30 32 78 B.J. McLeod* Live Fast Motorsports Ford 288 Running
31 34 51 Cody Ware* Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 285 Running
32 27 38 Anthony Alfredo Front Row Motorsports Ford 285 Running
33 33 53 Garrett Smithley* Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 283 Running
34 35 52 Josh Bilicki Rick Ware Racing Ford 280 Running
35 36 00 Quin Houff StarCom Racing Chevrolet 187 Accident
36 37 15 James Davison Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 40 Clutch
37 1 18 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 8 Accident
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Xfinity points

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