Last year was a memorable one for Stewart Haas Racing, with Kevin Harvick providing most of the highlights for the team throughout 2020. Nine wins and a boatload of laps led will do that for just about any driver and team. It’s been well documented that 2021 has been far less kind to the SHR quartet, but if anyone could break through and lead the return to victory lane, it’d be Harvick, right?
Wrong. Aric Almirola took advantage of a bizarre, rain slicked start that removed some of the heaviest competition to score his first Cup win in nearly three years. It was also the first of the year for perennial contender SHR.
While Almirola certainly enjoyed his visit to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, that wasn’t the case for everyone. Here are a few more notable numbers from Sunday’s 750-horsepower slip ‘n’ slide.
Almirola landed his third career win at NHMS, but it was his first outside of Daytona and Talladega, the two superspeedways that NASCAR visits. The Tampa native also has three Xfinity Series wins: one at Daytona, one at Talladega and the other at Milwaukee, a flat, one-mile oval quite similar to NHMS. Probably best to not mention that last one to him, though.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Almirola has the unenviable distinction of being the most recent driver to win a race without being in the car at the end. He started a 2007 Xfinity race in place of Denny Hamlin, who was unable to get to the track in time for the green flag. When Hamlin arrived at the track, the team had Aric pit at the next caution and swapped drivers, much to Almirola’s dismay. Hamlin went on to win, which under NASCAR rules meant credit for the triumph went to a disgruntled Almirola.
Eight: the number of laps Kyle Busch completed in the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 on Sunday. At least we know that is a fact. How many of those laps were run on a dry race track seems to depend on who you ask. The guy in the driver’s seat would probably tell you none of them. The officials calling the shots from various positions around the track insist that nearly all of them were. Regardless of who you believe, there’s no doubt that by the start of the ninth lap, the track was no longer free of moisture, and Busch went from first to last when his car backed into the retaining wall.
Joey Logano was penalized two laps for the team working on the car under the rain induced red flag period. However, the team was able to overcome the early mishap to pick up a fourth-place finish, sandwiched between his Penske teammates Brad Keselowski in third and Ryan Blaney in fifth.
Harvick led 66 laps on Sunday, which is the highest total for him in any event in 2021 and just the fourth race he’s been out front all year. Last season, Harvick led more than 66 laps 10 times, but considering how this year has gone, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
Christopher Bell carried the flag for Joe Gibbs Racing at the finish line, earning the runner-up spot for the second time in three weeks. Bell, who scored his first Cup win back in February at the Daytona road course, hadn’t been higher than fourth at the end before the second-place result at Road America. Not to mention he took home the trophy in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, too.
It’s been a bit of feast or famine for Ross Chastain lately. Over the past nine races, he has either finished eighth or better or 21st or lower. He has compiled five showings between second and eighth. But sprinkled amongst those are finishes of 21st, 26th, 33rd and 37th.
The only Hendrick Motorsports driver to lead a lap for the past two weeks is Chase Elliott. The other three drivers have compiled exactly zero laps led. Granted, two races isn’t an exceptionally long time, but it wasn’t that long ago when it felt like few of the other teams could even sniff the lead.
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