- ALMIROLA EARNS FIRST WIN OF THE SEASON TO ADVANCE AS SEVERAL CONTENDERS ENDURE ROUGH OUTINGS
Here’s a weekly glance at the four-round, elimination-style Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs that make a stop at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 4, for the AAA Texas 500, the middle race of the Round of 8. Brief recaps of the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series Playoffs also are included as both series will compete at Texas Motor Speedway as part of a NASCAR Playoff tripleheader weekend set for Nov. 1-4.
Playoff Field: The 12-driver field competing in the three-race Round of 12 consists of defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing; Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman of Hendrick Motorsports; 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney of Team Penske; 2014 champ Kevin Harvick, 2004 champ Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola of Stewart-Haas Racing; 2015 series champ Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing; and Kyle Larson of Chip Ganassi Racing.
Race Recap: Almirola, a week after a late caution cost him a win at Dover, finally cashed in with a dramatic win in Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Round of 12 Playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.
The victory was Almirola’s first of the season and second of his career, which provides him with an automatic berth in the NASCAR Playoffs’ Round of 8.
“I felt like I kept giving it away, and I was so disappointed for all these guys behind me because they’re awesome,” said Almirola, who has endured several near misses for victories this season. “They’re the best. I’m with the best team in the garage, and I felt like I kept letting them down not winning a race. Today, the good Lord was shining on us and we went to victory lane. We did it, finally.”
Almirola took advantage of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate and race leader Kurt Busch losing fuel pressure on the final lap of overtime, surging past him for his first win since 2014. He finished .105 of a second ahead of his teammate Bowyer as Stewart-Haas Racing was in position to sweep the top-four finishing positions before the late caution forced overtime.
Harvick, the Stage 2 winner who led 46 laps, also was running in the top four with his teammates, but was forced to pit before the overtime restart that would end any hopes of a victory. That was the same scenario that played out for fellow Playoff drivers and Penske teammates Keselowski and Blaney, who were running behind the SHR contingent and in contention.
Busch held the lead until his car sputtered in Turn 4 on the final lap as a multi-car accident occurred that included Playoff drivers Kyle Busch, Elliott and Truex Jr. Almirola captured the lead and took the checkered on the only lap he led in the race.
The only other driver to finish among the top 10 with Almirola and Bowyer was Logano, who took fifth. Kurt Busch, who led a race-high 108 of the 193 laps and won the first stage, wound up finishing 14th.
Seven Playoff drivers finished 23rd or worse, including Truex Jr. (23rd), Kyle Busch (26th), Keselowski (27th), Harvick (28th), Blaney (29th), Elliott (31st) and Bowman (33rd).
Click https://goo.gl/uZ6LVL for the race recap at NASCAR.com.
How They Stand: Almirola (Talladega win) and Elliott (Dover win) have secured automatic berths in the Round of 8 with one race remaining in this segment. Four drivers will be eliminated and Talladega provided plenty of movement in the Playoff standings. Almirola and Bowyer were below the cut-off line to advance coming in at ninth and 10th, respectively, and now Almirola is automatically in and his Stewart-Haas teammate jumped to sixth. Harvick (3,128 points), Kyle Busch (3,111), Logano (3,104) and Kurt Busch (3,095), respectively, are in the top four positions to advance currently via points. A 23rd-place finish at Talladega by Truex Jr. dropped him to the eighth and final transfer spot. Keselowski, who finished 27th, and Blaney, who was 29th, came in above the cut-off line and now find themselves below. Truex Jr. leads Keselowski by 18 points and Blaney by 22. Larson is 26 behind and Bowman trails by 68 for that final transfer spot.
A victory in a Round of 12 race by a championship-contending driver advances him to the next round and the remaining positions to advance are based off points earned in those three races. Four more drivers will be eliminated from championship contention following the Round of 12.
Next Up: The Round of 12 three-race segment concludes with Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (1 p.m. CT, TV: NBC, Radio: SiriusXM, MRN).
Coming Soon: The AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is the middle event of the three-race segment in the Round of 8, where eight drivers will remain in contention for the Cup championship. The Round of 8 consists of Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (Sunday, Oct. 28, NBCSN), the AAA Texas 500 (Sunday, Nov. 4, NBCSN) and Phoenix International Raceway (Sunday, Nov. 11, NBC). These three races will determine which four drivers will head to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 19, NBC) to vie for the series championship.
Xfinity Series Playoff Update: The series was idle this past weekend and returns to action Saturday with the Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway (2 p.m. CT, TV: NBC, Radio: SiriusXM, MRN) for the opening of the Round of 8 segment. Christopher Bell, who won two of the three races in the first round, leads the field of the eight remaining contenders to Kansas. Bell is joined by regular-season champion Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, Austin Cindric, Elliott Sadler, Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Matt Tifft. Texas Motor Speedway will play host to a Round of 8 race Saturday, Nov. 3, with the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.
Camping World Truck Series Playoff Update: Timothy Peters, a non-playoff driver making just his fourth start of the season, made a last-lap pass of playoff contender Noah Gragson to win Saturday’s Fr8Auctions 250 at Talladega Superspeedway. Gragson spun on that final lap when he attempted to block Peters and that led to NASCAR freezing the field with Peters in the lead. Fortunately for Gragson, he still finished 13th and advanced to the Round of 6.
Talladega served as the opening-round elimination race and Stewart Freisen and Ben Rhodes did not advance. Joining Gragson in the NASCAR Playoffs Round of 6 are Justin Haley, Grant Enfinger, Matt Crafton, regular-season champ Johnny Sauter and Brett Moffitt. Texas Motor Speedway will play host to a Round of 6 race Friday, Nov. 2, with the JAG Metals 350.
Note-While the championship fields are reduced by virtue of elimination in each of the rounds, each race continues to have a full field competing.