Sunday, January 16, 2022

Eric Almirola stages a big turnaround at Foxwoods 301

LOUDON, NH – Eric Almirola wins a photo finish with the running sun Sunday of Foxwoods 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Almirola dominated the final leg of the race and took the checkered flag at 8:11 pm after 292 laps under dark skies. The event was suspended after six laps for a rain delay of 1:42, which forced NASCAR to shorten the race by nine laps.

10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing, Almirola scored the upset to take the first win of his career at the Magic Mile and ticked off the NASCAR playoffs. Almirola’s previous best in NHMS was third in 2018.

“It’s one of my favorite race tracks and I love coming to the New England area,” Almirola said. “I won this race a few years ago and I gave it up and I was very happy to win a race here with this race team.”

Rookie Christopher Bell, who won the Xfinity race on Saturday, bounced off late to take second. Team Penske led by defending champion Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaine took the next three places. Logano did a miraculous piece of driving, seeing as he was fined two laps for repairing his car in red flag condition.

“I didn’t know how many laps he shortened and it stings, man, because I thought maybe I had a little bit better pace than him,” Bell said.

Almirola took his first lead on lap 245 after a series of brutal fights with Blaney at the turn. Both cars parked at the same time, but Almirola’s crew pulled her back on the track in seventh place, two places ahead of Blaney. Almirola took the lead on lap 274 and went on to win.

“That’s what a race car driver lives for,” Almirola said. “For so long I’ve been so close to winning and if I let it slip it means a lot.”

Pole-sitter Kyle Busch, a three-time winner at the NHMS, came clean from the start and established an early separation from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. Bush’s early advantage went south on lap six when he lost his grip on the wet stretch. One turn, hit the wall and take Trux with you.

Gibbs’ other top driver, three-time NHMS champ Denny Hamlin, crashed out into traffic, but suffered no damage. Bush blew a tire on lap 16 at last year’s race and didn’t finish. When the mist turned to incessant rain the race went into red flag status after debris.

“It should never have been green to start, but then it kept getting worse lap after lap,” said an indignant Bush. “We’re talking about lap two that it was raining.

“There’s no point in saying what I want to say, it’s no use.”

The race resumed with Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch at the front of the pack. Elliott opened an early lead over Bell and Bush but handed the pace to Blaney on lap 62. Blaney took 10 points after winning stage one, his fourth stage win of the season.

Four-time NHMS Champion Kevin Harvick took the lead by restarting at the start of the second leg and enjoyed an extended stretch of Green Flag racing. Harvick took the lead when he raced on lap 127 with Hamlin and Kiselowski on his bumper.

Kiselowski took his first lead on lap 146 and captured stage two embroiled in a frantic side-by-side fight with Blaney.

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