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NASCAR Cup at New Hampshire: Almirola wins; qualifies for the Playoffs

Loudon. NH, July 18/21 (by John Davison): Aric Almirola out-raced the weather and the competition to win his way into the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, taking the checkered flag at a rain-interrupted, darkness-shortened Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, scoring his third career win and first of the season.

Just as the race got underway, rain falling on the first turn caused pole starter and race leader Kyle Busch to spin and hit the wall in the first turn, ending the day for the No. 18.

"We started the race under a mist. It never should have gone green to begin with," complained Busch. "Then it kept getting worse and worse lap over lap. The lap before, I went into (turn) one and it shoved the nose really bad and I was able to keep it under control. It wasn't bad enough. The next time I went down there, hell, I lifted at the flag stand – maybe a little past the flag stand, don't get too dramatic – and just backed it in. We've been talking about it for two laps that it was raining. There's no sense in saying what I want to say, it doesn't do you any good."

Busch’s teammates Martin Truex and Denny Hamlin also spun in the water but the damage to Hamlin’s car was (relatively) minor. During the red-flag break due to the rain Hamlin said, "I don't think it's detrimental or anything like that. We were fortunate. I think we were just far enough up the field to be in the wreck, but far enough back to where I saw the leaders wrecking and were able to check up and brake 100 feet which kept us out of the wall. It was fortunate and unfortunate, but we're going to be fine."

The red-flag period lasted over an hour and 41 minutes while the track to be dried. As the race restarted after the red flag, Joey Logano got a two-lap penalty because a crew member opened a cowl flap and reached under it during the red flag, a clear violation of the red-flag rules. The problem was a large piece of rubber that was jamming the throttle linkage. Logano went on to recover from last car running to finish in fourth position as the filler in a Penske sandwich of Keselowski, Logano and Blaney in fourth through sixth.

During the race the lead was swapped 14 times, with Matt DiBenedetto's team leaving him out late in the race, hoping that darkness or a caution would end the race with the No. 21 car leading. Eventually, the team was forced to pit with the lead cycling back to Almirola with Christopher Bell in pursuit. Bell gained steadily, up to the call to shorten the race due to darkness but ran out of time. "I know lapped cars were giving him a bad time, but I was able to get to him. It was going to be a heck of a race," said Bell.

The next NASCAR Cup race will be held at Watkins Glen on August 8th, after a two-week break for the Olympics.

• Click HERE for the Race Results

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