(MRN.com) With a stunning victory in Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Aric Almirola sent shock waves through the NASCAR Cup Series’ Playoff standings.
With hard-charging Christopher Bell closing behind him, Almirola crossed the finish line at the 1.058-mile track .657 seconds ahead of the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to win the third race of his career and give Stewart-Haas Racing its first ostensible playoff berth of the 2021 campaign.
After battling Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney — who waged their own internecine war shortly after the start of the third stage — Almirola had to hold off Bell to win for the first time this season and for the first time on a track that isn’t a superspeedway.
Almirola entered Sunday’s event 27th in the Cup standings. Leaving New Hampshire, he’s eligible to compete for the series championship, barring the unlikeliest of circumstances.
Penske teammates Keselowski, Joey Logano and Blaney ran third, fourth and fifth, respectively, with Logano recovering from a two-lap penalty incurred during the rain delay. Nicked for the two circuits when a crewman worked on his car during the red-flag period, Logano used two free passes under caution to his advantage.
Kevin Harvick finished sixth after winning the first stage and leading a race-high 66 laps, the first time since May 9 at Darlington the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford had been at the front of the field.
Ford drivers claimed five of the top six finishing positions, with Bell in a Toyota being the only exception. Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain, Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin completed the top 10.
For a complete wrap-up of the New Hampshire race, follow this link.