(Photo: Christian Koelle)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Aric Almirola Finally in Victory Lane After Stewart-Haas Domination at Talladega

Who’s in the headline

There is domination by drivers and domination by teams. Sunday was total domination by the Stewart-Haas Racing organization. They won every stage and the race with a different driver doing each, and the driver who didn’t win any of them finished second in all three. In the end, fuel mileage bit Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, but Aric Almirola made the most of his fuel and scored the second victory of his career.

What happened

Kurt Busch won the pole and dominated the first stage. He led all but one lap, a single lap led for AJ Allmendinger under the only caution of the first stage, for a spin for Jeffrey Earnhardt. The second stage saw the SHR cars up front again, controlling the pace and the restarts. Brad Keselowski led the beginning of the stage thanks to a pit call. The lead switched hands a couple of times under caution for Jimmie Johnson, and then Harvick took over the stage to lead the final 42 laps. Speaking of 42, the No. 42 also brought out a caution in that stage and sustained right front damage. At the end of the second stage and the beginning of the final stage, Keselowski and William Byron swapped the lead a couple of times before Jamie McMurray took a spin on the front straight and got stuck in the grass.

The pit stops at that caution would prove critical. Everyone pitted, but for some, it wasn’t their last time. The SHR brigade came out and reassumed the point, controlling restarts on two subsequent cautions. However, under the caution on lap 160, many drivers near the back of the pack pitted. The front runners did not. That proved crucial because, a caution on lap 186 for a big wreck in turns three and four, bunched up the field and pushed the race to overtime. As the field came to the green, Harvick and Ryan Blaney pulled in the pits because they were out of fuel. On the final lap, Kurt Busch ran out of fuel in turns three and four which let Almirola swing past him and grab the point. Clint Bowyer passed Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the run to the checkered flag to score another runner-up finish on the day.

Why you should care

The end of the season is getting near and there is a real possibility that all four of the SHR cars will end up in the final eight. With Harvick’s playoff points and Kurt Busch’s consistency, another win by Almirola or Bowyer could legitimately put three SHR cars in the finals against Kyle Busch.

What your friends are talking about

Breaking up is hard to do. It has come time for Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus to go their separate ways.

While most people assumed they would stay together until Jimmie retired, it has been obvious for several years that it was time to break up the band. Knaus will be on the No. 24 box where he grew up at Hendrick Motorsports, while Johnson will have Kevin Meendering on the top of his pit box. Johnson is coming to the end of his career, Knaus could have a very impressive run with Byron, who could easily be a champion for years to come.

Apparently, SMI is in preliminary discussions with Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway about the potential for Truck and XFINITY races in the future. SMI is interested in being a part of a soccer team in Nashville. That interest certainly has some relevance to this racing curiosity with Nashville. While we would obviously love to see NASCAR national touring series races back in Nashville there is obviously another object in the room to be discussed.

Dear SMI, you own North Wilkesboro. You have the resources, fix it up and bring national racing back to Historic North Wilkesboro Speedway.

NASCAR did not throw the caution for the incident in Turn 1 on the final lap. THANK GOD!

We have been screaming for years about final lap cautions when the drivers in incidents were not in danger. Thank you so much to NASCAR for not shutting the race down early.

Brian France is going back to court in November. France has pleaded not guilty on driving under the influence and reckless driving. While we have obviously not heard from Brian since this all developed, we also have not heard from him or Jim about the transition of the top government of the sport. Jim France needs to step to the mic and answer questions about his brother’s transgressions.

Free Bacon … for LIFE! That’s right, a fan is going to get free bacon for life thanks to Almirola’s win at Talladega. Is there anything better than bacon? Yes, bacon for LIFE!

Who is mad

Harvick and Kurt Busch are equally mad. It probably would not have worked out for Harvick even with one less caution lap but Busch has a legitimate beef that NASCAR ran an extra lap under the final caution when the track was clear and ready to race. That lap cost him a win or at least a really good shot. Harvick pitted coming to green so it is hard to know if he’d have gotten two laps out of his tank.

Keselowski won three races in a row and was being discussed as a final four contender. Sunday he ran out of gas on the last lap and ended up 27th. He went from comfortably into the final eight to ninth and 18 points out of the top eight. Keselowski’s team has found some speed and it may be enough to push him through at Kansas, but it is far from assured.

Who is happy

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished third on Sunday. Yes, he’s a good plate racer but still, this was his best finish of the season. Roush Fenway Racing has been struggling to say the least. A finish like that is a nice shot in the arm as the final five races of the year loom on the horizon.

Allmendinger is about to be unemployed. That doesn’t mean his isn’t still digging and good at plate racing. Allmendinger managed to cross the line in sixth position for his second best finish of the season. It never hurts, when you’re interviewing for new jobs, to have a top 10 finish on your resume in the last month, and this is Dinger’s second in three weeks.

When the checkered flag flew

Aric Almirola scored his second victory of his career in his 275th career start.

This is Almirola’s first win of 2018 and his first Cup victory at Talladega.

Almirola’s two wins puts him in a tie for 102nd on the all-time list with 27 other drivers.

Clint Bowyer’s second place finish was his fourth top two of 2018.

Bowyer has four top twos at Talladega.

On the all-time runner-up finish list, Bowyer is tied with Speedy Thompson for 55th with 15.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s podium finish was his best of 2018.

Stenhouse has three top three runs in his career at Talladega.

On the all-time podium list Stenhouse has six, which ties him for 130th with 11 other drivers.

Darrell Wallace Jr. won the Rookie of the Race award for his 19th place finish.

For the year, Wallace’s 11 awards are nine behind William Byron’s 20.

Round two of the playoffs is upon us. 12 drivers are eligible to win the title but only eight will advance beyond this round. Chase Elliott and Aric Almirola are the two drivers locked into the Round of 8 thanks to their wins at Dover and Talladega resprctively. The playoff contenders are listed below with their associated points. The four drivers eliminated from title contention are listed because they are still eligible to finish as high as fifth. Race winners are bolded and will automatically advance to the next round.

1) Kevin Harvick – 3128

2) Kyle Busch – 3111

3) Joey Logano – 3104

4) Kurt Busch – 3095

5) Aric Almirola – 3087

6) Clint Bowyer – 3086

7) Martin Truex Jr. – 3083

8) Chase Elliott – 3066

9) Brad Keselowski – 3065

10) Ryan Blaney – 3061

11) Kyle Larson – 3057

12) Alex Bowman – 3015

13) Denny Hamlin – 2136

14) Jimmie Johnson – 2128

15) Austin Dillon – 2124

16) Erik Jones – 2108

What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

Total domination can lead to some boring races, and Sunday at Talladega was one of those. There was limited excitement at the end but the majority of the race was a snoozer. We’ll give it three cold Urban Farmers from Good People Brewing Company just because it was exciting to see Aric Almirola finally win a race this season. Congrats on the No. 10 SHR team finally scoring a win.

Where do you point your DVR for next week

And then it was time for another elimination race. We head to Kansas for the final race of round two of the playoffs. Coverage begins at 2:00 PM on NBC. You can also watch the race on the NBC Sports app. If listening is your pleasure, hit up your local MRN affiliate, go to www.motorracingnetwork.com or visit SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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13 comments

  1. Avatar

    what a farce that was. i can’t believe that all those cars were junk and could not run with the leaders. glad i didn’t venture over to the track.

    i never knew they ran a reserve tank of fuel.

    glad to see almirola win.

  2. Avatar

    As Talladega races go it was a dud. Not because of the lack of a “big one” but because most of the race was four to ten cars single file broken away from the pack. And several times he whole field was in a single-file parade. While I don’t particularly like restrictor plate pack racing, that is what people expect and that was missing yesterday. No one likes a single-file parade, ever.

    What made it all worth while is Almirola winning. Not that I am a fan but because it is vindication for all the arguments I had and names I was called (by intolerant left wingers) for stating that the prior driver was the problem with that team. Well, it’s easy to see now what was holding that 10 team back. Congrats to Aric. Now there are two guys into the next round that many had on their “out” list.

    • Avatar

      bill b – i immediately thought of princess sparkle pony and how it was everything but the driver with that 10 car. guess she’s busy helping aaron rogers’ football career now.

    • Avatar

      Not to mention that SHR is seeing benefits as a whole because now they have four drivers capable of contributing pertinent information about the cars that helps make them faster.

    • Avatar

      Jeez! Can’t even read Frontstretch anymore without politics coming into play. Don’t know what names you were called but wonder how you determined the name callers were left wingers. Read a lot of your comments here on Frontstretch Bill. Majority of the time you make some good points and comments. Expected better of you. Just sayin’.

      • Avatar

        You’re right, there is no way I could know that. I made the error of assuming their leaning which makes me guilty of the same thing.
        BTW, the people to whom I am referring are those that assumed I was a misogynist just because, after watching that team flounder for 5 years while changing every moving piece but the driver, the driver of that team happened to be a woman. Like I should ignore the empirical data and be positive in the name of political correctness.
        I should not have spelled out my assumption and let readers come to their own conclusion as to the political leanings of such a person.
        My bad.

        • Avatar

          In the name of all thats holy stop. That team took the money that she brought quite willingly, nobody forced them. Now she’s gone, not because Aric is a better driver but because he brought bigger checks.
          Get over it.
          Now back to the real issues with Nascar.

  3. Avatar

    In past plate races with a ‘break-away’ pack continuously leading, the front, lead position changed by a somewhat gentleman driver’s agreement, but not this ‘Dega race. Busch ‘broke the air’ for the other 3 that entire 100+ stretch and that used up extra fuel. Didn’t anyone raise an alarm at SHR?

  4. Avatar

    Im glad to see the 10 finally get a win however I have to agree with Busch (and I’m not a fan) but I would put money on it that if the 9 was leading on the last lap that yellow would have been thrown before the cars even finished spinning.
    Yeah it was a dull race regarding single file racing but no need to worry; the tappered spacer will fix that next year according to NASCAR.

  5. Avatar

    this race was pathetic….

    I watch every race, but this was hard to stomach. Hopefully Kansas and Martinsville will be better.