LOUDON, NH (WWLP) – Heading into Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, Aric Almirola was 27th in points and circled two tracks where he knew he could possibly win and that was New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway.
On Sunday evening, that all changed as pit strategy was the key and Aric Almirola would win the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 and punch himself a ticket into the NASCAR playoffs. The race ended at lap 293 due to darkness as there was a one-hour and 41 minute rain delay as Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr spun in turn 1 and collected damage during the opening laps of the race on lap 7. Busch’s day would come to an end and finished in 37th. Truex, Jr would finish in 12th.
Almirola talked about the win to 22News, “We really had a fast race car. We were off at the beginning of the race. We kept making adjustments on it. Every adjustment was the right adjustment and man it feels so good when you keep coming down pit road and the pit crew is gaining you spots. We just kept marching our way towards the front. Right there at the end, pitting on cycle and being able to get back by Brad (Keselowski). Brad had a really fast short-run car but we had a really good long-run car so we were able to keep pace with him for a few laps and then when my tires came in, we were able to go by him.”
Connecticut native Greg Zipadelli is the Competition Director at Stewart-Haas Racing. He told 22News about what it meant to come back to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“Yeah, here and Watkins Glen are home to me. But this place has always been special because when we raced modifieds, that was the first car to ever come here and test when the place first opened up with Mike McLaughlin. We came back and won the modified 150 and Busch North 150 in the same day. That was how we opened up this place. That’s how it’s always been to me. Obviously, this is Mike’s race today, but yes, coming home, there’s usually a lot of friends and family up this way. It’s fun. Mike is not too far from here. Pocono is home for you. Can’t count that, even though it’s a couple hours. Anyway, always fun to come to New England. It’s all about the seafood. We get plenty of lobster,” Zippadelli said.
Almirola’s crew chief Mike Bugarewicz talked to 22News about the pit strategy that got them to win the race, “As far as the pit strategy part goes, about three-quarters of the way through the race, watching our lap times and our ability to get through traffic relative to the other cars, it showed opportunity to potentially win this race. When we did, when we drove up through and got the lead, I was in a wait-and-see position. Obviously it was a little bit nerve-wracking and confusing to hear from NASCAR that we’re going to give you a 10-to-go warning of when the race is going to end. At the time you’re thinking, This could get ugly. People start pitting and people don’t pit, all these thoughts are going through your head. But with that said, not knocking on them, I think once the pit cycle started, I had faith in them that they were going to let it cycle through and do the right thing on that side of things. I think they do. I think they try to keep an equal and fair playing field. They did that.”
He continued to say, “With that said, I wasn’t going to be the first one to pit road. I wanted to see what these other guys were going to do. Once they started peeling off, taking four tires, in all honesty, it really isn’t that big of decision for me anymore. It’s come down, take the four tires. I knew the first five laps we’d be at a little bit of a disadvantage, exactly what I saw the 2 car (Keselowski), he fired off really good, kind of fell off on the longer run. We had a good long-run car. I knew if we could maybe maintain a little bit more of a lead, we could stay ahead of him. He did end up getting around us, but I knew we could run him back down, and we did. Aric did a fantastic job. Again, credit to a really fantastic car that SHR has brought to this track.” Bugarewicz said.
With no practice or qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series this weekend, Almirola told 22News that it really didn’t affect him at all.
“Not really. I mean, I think the race still played out. We came from 22nd. We had a really fast race car. We were able to pass cars. I think we were one of a few cars that could actually pass throughout the run. I could barely hold my own for the first 10 laps, then after lap 12 to 15 we would just start marching through the field. So, yeah, I felt like the track was very racy. I kind of liked it without the PJ1. Obviously I won so I’m biased. I really did. I thought it was racy. I thought the grip really went away. It really caused you to have to drive the race car, more car control. You didn’t feel stuck. When you caught somebody, you could move around and pass them. When we had the PJ1, you had to work twice if not three times as hard to get by somebody because the PJ1, even if their car was not handling, it was the preferred groove, you could not get by them. Now I feel like it was a lot more available for options to be move around the racetrack without the PJ1 sprayed. The car was a lot more skate-y, up on top of the racetrack, drive off as we’ve always typically had here at Loudon was a premium. So managing your tires at the beginning of a run and not roasting them on drive-off was paying dividends on the long run, where when we come here with the PJ1, you could just floor it and the car stuck in the PJ1,” Almirola Said.
Christopher Bell finished in second. Brad Keselowski finished in third. Joey Logano finished in fourth and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain, Alex Bowman, and Denny Hamlin.
Ryan Preece finished in 22nd. There were 14 lead changes among 10 drivers.
The NASCAR Cup Series will be off the next two weeks as their next race will be on Sunday, August 8 at Watkins Glen International in New York.