NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2021 Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire

What happened in the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301?

Aric Almirola won the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday (July 18) to steal an unlikely playoff spot in what’s been a dismal season.

Christopher Bell, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top-five finishers.

How did it happen?

Pole sitter Kyle Busch jumped to the lead ahead of Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott through the first corner as misty conditions surrounded the track. Busch led the first six laps but the asphalt got increasingly wet as drivers complained about moisture on the speedway. On lap 7, Busch couldn’t find any grip, sending him spinning into the outside wall in turn 2. Truex followed suit as several others (Denny Hamlin, Ross Chastain) either spun or slid into other cars, suffering damage.

Elliott slowed way down and avoided the two leaders in one of the more bizarre situations in recent NASCAR history.

The race was red-flagged due to rain at lap 9 with Elliott leading and it wasn’t restarted until just after 5 p.m. ET. By that time, the No. 18 was already packed into the hauler and on its way back to Charlotte. Truex and Hamlin’s cars were repaired although neither driver ever worked their way back into serious contention.

Moments later, Joey Logano joined them in the back after serving a two-lap penalty for working on the car under the red flag. A piece of debris caught in the throttle linkage, forcing the team’s hand and an immediate fix.

Kurt Busch took the lead from Elliott on the restart at lap 24 before Elliott got it back two laps later. On lap 32, Anthony Alfredo spun and brought out another yellow, bunching up the field.

Elliott kept the lead on the restart and held it until Blaney took over with 13 laps left in stage one. Blaney held on from there, earning his fourth stage win of 2021.

In stage two, Kevin Harvick exited pit road out front and led for over 50 laps ahead of Elliott. At lap 128, Quin Houff was spun into the wall with help from Ryan Newman.

On the restart with 50 to go in stage two, Harvick again pulled away. Another caution came a few laps after the restart when Bubba Wallace got loose due to contact with Daniel Suarez, collecting Chris Buescher in the process. Neither driver had significant damage as both continued on, although Buescher lost a lap to repairs.

Harvick stayed out front on the restart, but Keselowski got by him two laps later with 39 to go in stage two. He led the rest of the way for his second stage win of 2021.

Keselowski and Blaney had a spirited battle for the lead to begin stage three before Blaney ultimately prevailed with just under 100 laps left. As Blaney pulled away, the battle for second between Keselowski, Harvick and Aric Almirola heated up. Almirola finally got to second with 65 to go, then passed Blaney 10 laps later as the sky grew dimmer.

Green flag stops began with 54 to go as the No. 10 stayed ahead of Keselowski. Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron tried to stretch it and hope for a darkness-shortened win, but DiBenedetto pitted with 27 to go as Almirola regained the lead. Bell pushed into second, just 1.7 seconds back and charging.

With 18 laps left, NASCAR determined the skies were too dark to continue and gave a 10 laps to go warning. Almirola was briefly held up by 17th-place Austin Dillon, allowing Bell to close within half a second. Dillon, trying to preserve his own playoff spot, was bumped out of the way and Almirola got away from Bell to secure the victory.

Almirola’s win was the third of his career, his first at New Hampshire and first since Talladega Superspeedway in October 2018.

Who stood out?

Absolutely no one saw Almirola’s win at New Hampshire coming. Since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018, Almirola made the playoffs every year and racked up at least 12 top 10s in all three seasons. But through 21 races in a frustrating 2021, Almirola had just two top 10s and a 22.8 average finish. While there was some bad luck along the way, the No. 10 (and SHR as a whole) just wasn’t very good before Sunday.

How quickly a win changes all that. Almirola is now essentially locked into the playoffs and might’ve bought himself another year of job security. Both he and sponsor Smithfield are in a contract year, causing the concern level to rise high in the Almirola camp. But Smithfield has been a longtime partner and another win for the company should keep him in their good graces. Winning on a non-superspeedway track for the first time in 374 starts is also huge for Almirola’s career.

Bell stayed hot with another top-10 finish, his third straight. After winning his third start in as many NHMS races in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Saturday, Bell played second fiddle in this one. The No. 20 remains noticeably better this summer after a bumpy stretch following his Daytona win. Second, eighth and second in his last three starts have Bell heating up just in time for his first playoff run with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Tyler Reddick has been more consistent than anyone over the past few months, though his playoff spot is far from secure after Almirola’s win. He’s finished top 20 in 16 straight races, with 10 of those being top-10 finishes. New Hampshire was yet another quiet, consistent performance for the No. 8 as he delivered a 13th-place result, racking up nine additional stage points in the process.

However, a wild-card winner bumped Reddick into a treacherous spot in the playoff picture, just five points above the cutoff and teammate Dillon. Look for him to be in the mix at the upcoming road courses (Watkins Glen International, Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and then at the regular season finale (Daytona International Speedway) as he seeks to punch his ticket to the dance.

Who fell flat?

Kyle Busch’s frustrations from his late loss in Atlanta continued with an early incident in Loudon. NHMS has been one of his better tracks and starting on the pole after four straight top-five finishes seemed like a recipe for success. The weather had different plans. Busch got loose while leading early in the race and didn’t even make it through 10 laps. Penalties could be forthcoming after his frustration boiled over into hitting the pace car.

Here’s the good news: there shouldn’t be much concern long-term for Busch as he’s routinely been the best JGR car this summer. One bad finish shouldn’t derail his season and the upcoming two-week break should be a chance for them to forget about New Hampshire.

Byron was a non-factor throughout the race and is slumping at an inopportune time. NHMS has been a rough track for Hendrick Motorsports in recent years. That said, the organization has had an incredible run as of late, so there had to be optimism even entering a tougher track. 

They couldn’t change the narrative, in particular with the No. 24 team. Byron ran outside the top 10 all day and gambled on strategy late before finishing 21st. This run marks four straight finishes outside the top 10 and three straight of 20th or worse for Byron. At one time the most consistent HMS entry, Byron needs to regain his swagger over the next four races if he hopes to make a deep playoff run.

What did this race prove?

New Hampshire showed that Fords will be a factor in the title fight. The manufacturer hadn’t won since Talladega in April, 12 races ago. The only wins for Ford this season were on superspeedways (Talladega, Daytona), a dirt track (Bristol) and a pass for the win in the final laps (Atlanta). New Hampshire is the closest comparison on the schedule to championship host Phoenix Raceway so placing five cars in the top six is critical for the blue ovals.

The PJ1 traction compound probably isn’t necessary at any track. NHMS was one oval that seemed to be enhanced by the sticky stuff as the track had a run of memorable races in recent years. When it was announced that PJ1 wouldn’t be applied, there was apprehension about Sunday. Those concerns were quieted early and often as there was constant action throughout the event. If New Hampshire, which was relegated to one race after years of complaints about the on-track product, doesn’t need PJ1, I can’t see a purpose for it anywhere. Drivers seem to dislike it and it never significantly improves the racing. Let’s end the PJ1 era.

NASCAR’s upcoming two-week layoff is badly needed. Between the Circuit of the Americas rain situation, the Atlanta repave uproar and now the New Hampshire rain debacle, I think everyone needs to reset before the stretch run. NASCAR didn’t officiate the beginning of Sunday’s race well, clearly. They were lucky that great racing the rest of the way changed the narrative entering the two-week break. The focus and pressure when the Cup Series returns to Watkins Glen will likely be at a different level.

See also
Mother Nature Strikes Early, Chaos Ensues at New Hampshire

Paint scheme of the race

The big NASCAR news of the week was Team Penske’s official announcement Austin Cindric would replace Keselowski in the famed No. 2 Ford. Keselowski will still pilot the car for the remainder of this season and his first race after the announcement came in a beautiful Freightliner-sponsored paint scheme.

Better than last year?

In 2020, New Hampshire delivered a solid race in what has become a growing trend at the track. There were seven cautions for on-track accidents due to a number of blown tires. Even though Keselowski and Hamlin combined to lead 276 of 301 laps, it was still an entertaining event with battles throughout the field. Keselowski pulled away on the final 83-lap green flag run to win by just under two seconds over Hamlin.

This year, the race started off wild with the wet track. After a lengthy red flag, things got even crazier. There were constant comers and goers with six drivers leading at least 20 laps. At times, it felt like half-a-dozen teams had a real shot at winning. Almirola came on late as the darkness concern definitely ratcheted up the intensity, holding Bell off for the upset.

Last year was a good race — this year was a great race. Bravo to New Hampshire.

Playoff picture

Almirola is the first major shakeup in the NASCAR playoff picture, entering the weekend 27th in points. He’s the 13th new winner this season but the first driver outside the top 20 in the standings to win.

Sunday’s results tightened the bubble gap from 96 points to just five and Richard Childress Racing is suddenly scrambling. Hamlin (+283, leads overall standings by 13 points) still has a sizable cushion and should be safe, but Harvick (+82) is now feeling unsteady thanks to his teammate. Reddick (+5) now narrowly leads Austin Dillon (-5) for the final playoff spot with Buescher (-121), DiBenedetto (-143) and Ross Chastain (-144) further back. It’ll come down to a battle between teammates unless there’s another winner outside the top 16.

Here’s a look at the full standings following New Hampshire with just four regular season races left.

What’s next?

The Tokyo Olympics will headline NBC’s coverage for the next two weeks as NASCAR goes on a brief hiatus. All three series — Cup, Xfinity and Trucks — will have the next two weekends off. The Cup Series returns on Sunday, Aug. 8 and will run for 14 straight weeks to close the season.

After not running Watkins Glen last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, racing returns to New York with the Go Bowling at the Glen on Sunday, Aug. 8 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.

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29 Comments
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Iceman202290

Lol got loose? Your kidding right? Theres nothing to be said about loose when walking on ice which is what slicks are on wet pavement.

NASCAR needs to figure out this rain crap. This isnt a first time incident and teams shouldn’t be removed from a race because NASCAR refuses to stop it for rain.

While this incident to start the race was unreal, I still rank circuit of Americas above this. Think they need to rethink their protocols. Too much money on the line to just shrug your shoulders and say eh, we made a mistake, mistakes happen. When Treux went under a car at CoA, they should have red flagged it then.

Kurt Smith - Ex-Frontstretch Staff

If you were a Truex fan attending that race, or a Kyle fan attending yesterday’s race, would you ever buy a ticket again? There’s no excuse for that happening TWICE in the “Best Season Ever”.

Iceman202290

Exactly, it’s hard to expect mid-season changes, however; they need to heavily address this in the offseason. It’s a safety concern.

Bill B

Don’t forget Harvick had the same thing happen at Texas last year and it was during the playoffs. Pretty much killed his championship run after being the points leader all year.

darby

Boo-hoo!

Bill B

Hey, don’t think I’m a Harvick fan. I’ve never like him since he wrecked the field at Talladega on a late restart.

Iceman202290

Its unacceptable at this level. They need to determine a better protocol because what they have had in place for years doesnt work.

Also loving this thumb up, thumb down system. Let everyone know how soft they are, not a Harvick fan thumb down, hate Busch and glad he wrecked and dont want to hold NASCAR accountable, thumbs down 🙄

Bill B

I think the thumbs up and thumbs down has less to do with what is said and more to do with who is saying it.

Kurt Smith - Ex-Frontstretch Staff

I stopped watching NASCAR for ten years because of its criminally incompetent leadership. With Brian France gone I thought the sport had a chance to bounce back and I started tuning in again. After seeing cars wreck while trying to race in torrential rain at COTA and then seeing LEADERS wreck at New Hampshire because NASCAR can’t be bothered to start a damn race at noon and is desperately trying to get the race in, I see things haven’t changed. NASCAR owes every Kyle Busch fan that bought tickets for this farce an engraved apology and should pay their hotel bills.

But they’ll keep coming back, right NASCAR? Uh…

This sport continues to be run like a third rate racing series on some back roads TV station, and will continue to hemorrhage fans until there is a complete overhaul of its leadership. No one named France should have anything left to do with this sport or IT WILL DIE.

Kevin in SoCal

Damn! You’ve been hanging out with Matt a little too much.

Wow.

darby

I love (not) these guys who don’t watch the races jumping into the comments as if they are experts. Maybe you should find a sport you actually enjoy and leave the trolling behind you.

Last edited 4 months ago by darby
Iceman202290

He is not wrong. These are safety issues that need to be addressed. NASAR constantly preaches safety yet their actions warrant a different result.

This race should not have gone green and Steve getting on camera only made NASCAR look even more inept.

darby

My point is that you can’t simultaneously complain about NASCAR becoming a third-tier sport and then complain that the starting time is dictated by their lucrative TV contract. All sports are controlled by TV. I posted elsewhere that an MLB game was rescheduled for tomorrow so as not to conflict with the NBA Finals in the same TV market.

And frankly, NASCAR has never been a top-tier sport, going back to the days when it was only carried on ESPN (and sometimes then on tape delay) when far fewer people had cable or streaming capability.

I agree that the race should not have gone green under those conditions. Maybe NH needs to get into the 21st century and install lights.

A Different Steve

I can answer the last comment. The Smith’s have tried for years to add lights to the track, but the town said no. Its as simple as that.

Bill B

Great race for a track for which I had very low expectations. Congrats to Almirola, he turned a potential Chernobyl year into a mere Three Mile Island. I still am not convinced that SHR has righted the ship but they showed up yesterday. It’s still hard to believe that neither Havrick nor Hamlin have managed to win this year after winning so much last year.
Agree that Keselowski’s paint scheme was cool. Jr had it right when he said it was reminiscent of the movie Tron.
You can bet teams were paying attention to Joey Logano. If the standard penalty for working on your car during a red flag is 2 laps, the 22 team proved it is worth taking that penalty in the long run. I’d expect to see teams ignore that rule from here on. Perhaps the penalty should be 5 laps.

Last edited 4 months ago by Bill B
Jake

Although, if it wasn’t for that penalty I think Logano would’ve easily contended for a win and won at least one stage.

Once back on the lead lap, he drove through the field quickly.

WJW Motorsports

Excellent Monty Burns reference there.. Bravo.

Bill B

Excelleeeent. Glad somebody got it.
Now I’ll feel free to “wallow in my own crapulence” for the rest of the day.

DoninAjax

Charles Montgomery Plantagenet Schicklgruber Burns is the full name. Schicklgruber is Hitler’s real name.

Bill B

LOL I have heard his whole name before but never got the Schicklgruber reference.
That’s the best part of that show. There are layers of jokes. As you go through life and pick up knowledge, when you watch it again you get jokes you didn’t get the first time.

Kevin in SoCal

The severity of a 2 lap penalty depends on the track. You’re right, at a “short track” the penalty probably should have been 5 laps.
Its also been suggested that penalty laps cannot be gotten back by the “lucky dog” rule.

Carl D.

I enjoyed the race. Plenty of passing, even for the lead. I’m not a Kyle Busch fan, but he got shafted by poor officiating. Not much more to say that hasn’t been said.

Bad Brad’s car wins the paint scheme of the year award. That car was sharp. Bet it looks even better under the lights; they should run that scheme again in a night race.

Mr Yeppers

I agree Kyle got the shaft because of the wet start but he should have been parked for bumping the pace car out of anger. In any other “Professional” sport touching the officials is off limits. He should have been parked for the rest of the day regardless of the outcome of the accident.

Last edited 4 months ago by Mr Yeppers
Iceman202290

From what I have peiced together, he bumped the pace car cause despite driver feedback (track is too wet) an official in turn 1 saying track appears too wet, the dude driving the pace car said track was good to race on, therefore, they started the race.

Kevin in SoCal

“it wasn’t restarted until just after 5 p.m. ET. By that time, the No. 18 was already packed into the hauler and on its way back to Charlotte.”

Kyle Busch’s pit equipment was covered and still sitting at pit stall #1 during the race, so I don’t think they were on the way to Charlotte yet. Does NHIS have a tunnel under the track?

Johnny Cuda

NHMS does have a tunnel under Turn 2.

Jim

Pit equipment goes back via another companies truck.

Kevin in SoCal

Thank you both for the info.

Tom B

On situations like this late yellow for the wet track that cause damage race cars, it should be an open red flag where body damage can be fixed without penalty. In fact I am in favor of all red flags being open. Why should you have to stop working on your car because some one or God caused a red flag.

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