|SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums|
The finish, which came in Almirola’s 171st series start, was his second of the season and his first since the June race at Pocono, 14 races ago.
Since the last-place run at Pocono, Almirola set his sights on giving the Richard Petty Motorsports team its second-consecutive Chase appearance. In the twelve races between then and the Chase cutoff, Almirola racked up six top-15 finishes and remained mathematically eligible at Richmond. There, he rallied in the late stages and even threatened to upset Matt Kenseth’s dominant Toyota before a controversial restart left him 4th and out of the title hunt. Despite the setback, Almirola picked up where he left off at Chicago and finished 10th. He looked for a similar strong run at Loudon, where he’d come home 15th in July.
Almirola’s “Petty blue” Ford was 27th-fastest in Friday’s opening session, but he jumped to 15th in qualifying with a hot lap of 136.697 mph. On Saturday, he remained consistent with a 19th-fastest run in the morning before settling for 25th in Happy Hour.
The 43rd starting spot in Sunday’s field went to Timmy Hill in the unsponsored black #62 Premium Motorsports Ford, a car that was more than six-tenths slower than Travis Kvapil, the lone DNQ in The Motorsports Group’s #30 Curtis Key Plumbing Chevrolet. Before the start of Sunday’s race, Hill conceded the spot to Jeffrey Earnhardt. Earnhardt, making his second start in three races driving Go Green Racing’s #32 Arundel Ford / Weirs GMC Ford, had on Saturday made hard contact with the outside wall from an apparent stuck throttle. The team managed to repair Earnhardt’s ride, only to have to change the rear gear before race day. Hill re-took last from Earnhardt on the first lap, but Earnhardt retook it on Lap 6 and was the first to be lapped around Lap 14.
By Lap 17, Hill had regained the 43rd spot when he was suddenly three laps down along with the #40 Interstate Moving Services Chevrolet of Landon Cassill. Cassill’s car was smoking during the early stages as it leaked power steering fluid, forcing at least two trips behind the wall in the first 30 circuits. The stops dropped Cassill behind Hill, and as he continued to lose laps, it appeared Cassill would score his first last-place finish since Bristol in April, thus breaking his tie with Alex Bowman for the 2015 LASTCAR Cup Series lead.
Then, on Lap 36, trouble found Almirola. Running mid-pack at the time, Almirola suffered the first of a series of right-front tire failures that wreaked havoc with Sunday’s field. The #43’s incident happened in Turn 2, and the car rode the wall for several yards before it came to a stop. Fortunately, Almirola walked away unharmed, though his machine suffered sever damage to the entire right side. Almirola tumbled to 42nd by Lap 39, when Cassill’s last-place machine returned to the track just 17 circuits behind Almirola.
On Lap 47, Cassill was just ten laps away from dropping Almirola to last when his power steering failed completely in Turns 3 and 4, spraying fluid all over the track and causing a five-lap caution of his own. When the #40 rolled behind the wall, it again appeared that Cassill would hang on to the 43rd spot, but the determined Hillman-Smith Motorsports team managed to make repairs and get him back on the track on Lap 79. Almirola, however, never returned to the track, and Cassill passed him for the final time on Lap 91.
Cassill managed to bring his car home 38th after a series of mid-race crashes. First to plummet on Lap 121 was Alex Bowman, whose lapped #7 Nikko / Road Rippers Chevrolet crashed hard in Turn 3 from what was either a hung throttle or tire failure. On Lap 160, Cassill was about to drop Bowman to 42nd when Chase contender Kyle Busch’s #18 Pedigree Meatier Recipe Toyota also hit the Turn 3 wall. Busch fell into the Bottom Five on Lap 175, but despite hitting the wall hard enough to lift the left sides off the ground, he later joined Cassill in his climb up the field, eventually passing Cassill to snag a 37th-place finish.
Between Bowman and Cassill were David Ragan and Danica Patrick, who came home 40th and 41st. On Lap 205, Patrick’s #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet crossed the nose of Ryan Newman’s #31 Caterpillar Chevolet entering Turn 1 and backed into the outside wall, then rolled into the path of the passing Ragan, shearing off the right side sheetmetal of Ragan’s #55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota. Kyle Busch passed the pair on Lap 240. 39th went to still another tire issue, this one suffered by Justin Allgaier’s #51 AccuDoc Solutions Chevrolet on Lap 239 - the ninth and final caution of the day.
Two drivers made their Sprint Cup debuts on Sunday and managed to avoid all the carnage. Rising modified star Ryan Preece came home 32nd in Premium Motorsports’ #98 Mohawk Northeast / East West Marine Chevrolet. The car was prepared by Tommy Baldwin Racing after an arrangement with Premium made in August, and the machine was painted to resemble the #2x modified ride of Preece’s grandfather Bob Judkins. Two spots behind Preece was 34th-place B.J. McLeod in Circle Sports’ unsponsored #33 Chevrolet. McLeod, a part-time competitor most frequently seen in Christopher Long’s #45 Tilted Kilt Chevrolet in the Truck Series, earned a career-best 25th at the track when he raced for Bobby Dotter’s XFINITY team this past July.
*This is the first last-place finish for both Almirola and the #43 in a Cup Series race at New Hampshire.
*Almirola’s finish ends a three-race last-place streak by BK Racing, which came home 43rd in the previous Loudon races with three different drivers - J.J. Yeley, Clay Rogers, and Mike Bliss. On Sunday, BK Racing’s three cars came home 30th (Matt DiBenedetto), 31st (Josh Wise), and 33rd (Jeb Burton).
THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #43-Aric Almriola / 35 laps / crash
42) #7-Alex Bowman / 117 laps / crash
41) #55-David Ragan / 203 laps / crash
40) #10-Danica Patrick / 203 laps / crash
39) #51-Justin Allgaier / 236 laps / crash
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Alex Bowman, Landon Cassill (3)
2nd) Aric Almirola, Michael Annett, J.J. Yeley (2)
3rd) Justin Allgaier, A.J. Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Gase, David Gilliland, Timmy Hill, Sam Hornish, Jr., Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte, Brian Scott, Tony Stewart, Cole Whitt, Josh Wise (1)
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hillman Smith Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing (3)
2nd) BK Racing, Go FAS Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, Phil Parsons Racing / Premium Motorsports (2)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Childress Racing / Circle Sport, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (16)
2nd) Ford (9)
3rd) Toyota (3)
Ironic that a day that started out favoring Cassill for the outright Lastcar lead ended with Bowman taking the Bottom-Five Tiebreaker (6-5, per a check of Racing-Reference).
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