Almirola wins Talladega in Stewart-Haas rout

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Aric Almirola capped an absolute Stewart-Haas Racing rout at Talladega Superspeedway with an overtime victory that earned him an automatic berth into the third round of NASCAR’s playoffs.

Almirola was part of the four-car SHR contingent that was untouchable all weekend at Talladega. The four Fords swept qualifying, won every stage of Sunday’s race and used teamwork to pull away from the field.

SHR had the race in control until a caution with three laps remaining sent it into overtime. Then the fuel pressure light on Kurt Busch’s car began to flicker, and Kevin Harvick’s light followed. As the field roared to the green flag, Harvick forfeited a shot at victory by pulling off the track to get enough gas to make it to the finish.

Busch stayed out as the leader with Almirola and Clint Bowyer looking for a slot to slip past him for the victory. Then Busch ran out of gas headed to the checkered flag and Almirola zipped past him for his first victory since joining SHR this year as the replacement for Danica Patrick.

Almirola thought he had last week’s race at Dover won until a caution triggered by teammate Bowyer ruined his shot at the victory. A week later, he got his checkered flag and his stamp into the round of eight in the playoffs.

“I just love racing at Talladega and I came to the track with the mindset that we were going to go race and we were going to go give them hell, and if we wrecked, we wrecked,” Almirola said. “And if we win, we win. And we won. What a cool time to do it, too.”

Bowyer finished second, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in a Ford from Roush Fenway Racing.

Busch faded to 14th and was fuming after the race for NASCAR taking a long time to clean the track after the Bowman accident and then not throwing a caution on the last lap for a crash at the rear of the field after the cars took the white flag. If NASCAR had thrown the caution, Busch potentially could have maintained enough speed to win the race.

“There were two missed calls by NASCAR at the end,” Busch said. “Why do we have an extra yellow-flag lap [before the final restart] is beyond me — the track was ready to go.

“At the end, once we crossed the white flag and there is a wreck and an ambulance needs to be dispatched, I’ve been on the other side of that where I was racing coming back to win the race and they said, ‘Well we had to dispatch an ambulance.’ There was two cars dead in the water down there.”

Busch said he felt the rules need to be stricter at the end of the races.

NASCAR issued a response for not throwing the caution on the final lap:

“We were closely monitoring each car involved, and were actively communicating with spotters and safety trucks in Turn 1,” NASCAR said in a statement. “All cars were able to either roll off under their own power or signal they were clear. As always, we make every effort to end under green for our fans in the stands and at home, which we did.”

UP NEXT: The elimination race of the second round of the playoffs, at Kansas Speedway, where Kevin Harvick won in May and Martin Truex Jr. won last October. Harvick, Truex and Kyle Busch have combined to win the past five races at Kansas.

Information from ESPN’s Bob Pockrass and The Associated Press was used in this report.

www.espn.com – RPM

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