NASCAR: Aric Almirola disrupts playoff picture at New Hampshire

Mired in the 27th spot in the standings, Aric Almirola nonetheless clinched a NASCAR Cup Series playoff spot at New Hampshire.

Faced with a win-or-go-home situation, Aric Almirola raced through chaos to clinch a spot in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs on Sunday afternoon-into-evening at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Braving a wet racetrack, a weather delay of over 100 minutes, and oncoming darkness, Almirola took home the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, his first win since the Talladega race in October 2018 (98 races ago) The race fell nine laps short of its 301-circuit distance, as rain and a New England sunset forced NASCAR to improvise.

Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, had struggled all season after enjoying a career-best campaign in 2020. He was mired in 27th-place in the Cup Series standings entering Sunday, posting only a pair of top ten finishes over the first 21 events of the year. With 232 points between him and Tyler Reddick, the 16th and final playoff driver, and only five races left on the regular season docket, Almirola was clearly in a must-win situation.

He took care of that and then some, leading the final 20 laps en route to this third career Cup Series race and his first on a non-superspeedway track.

Sunday’s race was defined by early controversy. The event went green under overcast skies in Loudon and rain began to fall shortly after. Polesitter and leader Kyle Busch wrecked on the slick racetrack on the sixth lap, as did Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. Afterwards, the race sat through a 101-minute rain delay while the track dried. Busch’s No. 18 Toyota was deemed too damaged to carry on. The two-time champion was visibly agitated with NASCAR’s decision to start the race under the misty conditions.

Almirola’s fellow Fords took over after the race resumed, as the affair appeared to come down to Kevin Harvick or the Team Penske tandem of Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney. After the second stage, at lap 186, NASCAR announced that due to the setting sun and ensuing darkness, they would inform the drivers of a de facto 10-lap warning once conditions made a full finish impossible.

The No. 10 picked up speed over the final stage and led its first laps of the day with 55 to go, getting the best of Blaney in the last turn. Shortly after, the field was forced to come to pit road for the final service cycle of the day.

Another Ford, that of Matt DiBenedetto, tried to push his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing machine to the 10-lap notice but had to stop 28 laps from the originally scheduled finish. The gambit capped off an emotional week for DiBenedetto, who was informed that he would not be returning to the No. 21 Ford next season. NASCAR Xfinity Series standout Harrison Burton will take over the ride while defending Xfinity champion Austin Cindric will take over the No. 2 currently occupied by Keselowski, who is expected to move to Roush Fenway Racing. WBR holds a technical alliance with Penske and has hosted DiBenedetto for the last two seasons.

Behind DiBenedetto, Almirola did battle with Keselowski, who was looking for the perfect Penske parting gift. The No. 10 finally got the best of him as visibility dwindled. NASCAR gave the 10-to-go notice with 19 scheduled laps left, effectively wiping away only nine circuits. Despite some interference from the lapped car of Austin Dillon, Almirola managed to secure the win, holding off the closing No. 20 Toyota of Christopher Bell.

Penske Fords, with Keselowski and Blaney sandwiching teammate Joey Logano, rounded out the top five. Logano’s day was defined by an incredible comeback story, as he recovered from a penalty during the red flag process before making up the time to finish fourth.

Dillon might’ve had every reason to hold Almirola up. With Almirola leapfrogging himself into the playoff bracket, the winless Dillon is now the odd man out. Dillon is now five points behind Richard Childress Racing teammate Reddick with four races left in the regular season.

With TV partner NBC Sports broadcasting the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the NASCAR Cup Series will take a two-week break before resuming at Watkins Glen International’s road course on August 8 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Jeff Gordon excited for new opportunity as Vice-Chairman of Hendrick Motorsports

After spending six years as an analyst in FOX Sports’ NASCAR Cup Series booth, Jeff Gordon recently announced that he’s putting down the microphone and headed back to Hendrick Motorsports on a full-time basis. Gordon certainly isn’t getting back in the car, however, he’ll enter a new management role in 2022. Beginning January 1, Gordon will become the new Vice-Chairman of the historic racing organization, a massive promotion from his previous role as a team equity owner.

“I’m excited,” Gordon said at Pocono Raceway in June. “It’s been in discussion for a long time between Rick [Hendrick] and myself, and my presence has been there. It wasn’t a choice about leaving FOX, it was really about the opportunity and timing of moving into this role full-time”.

Gordon will become the No. 2 man in charge at Hendrick Motorsports, only behind team owner Rick Hendrick.

“I’ve been behind the scenes, understanding and learning the business side gradually over time,” Gordon said. “As I started getting closer to stepping away in 2015 from a driving role, my interest level in the business side of the picture that Rick’s created [increased]”.

One of the goals Gordon has in his new role is to continue to build relationships with drivers and staff members at HMS. An example he gave was his relationship with Alex Bowman, a five-time Cup Series winner and driver of the No. 48 machine.

Bowman first signed with Hendrick Motorsports in 2016 on a part-time basis to drive Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 car while Earnhardt Jr. was recovering from injuries. Bowman split time with Gordon in the seat over the final 18 races of the season with Bowman getting starts in 10 of those races.

“I can spend all my time nurturing relationships,” Gordon said. “Alex [Bowman] would be one of those guys. He and I did double-duty when Jr. was out, so that was a fun way to know Alex…..It took us a little while to where we can bond, and now that we’ve got him signed up, I look forward to getting even closer to him”.

“There were some really impactful conversations with me last year [with Jeff],” Bowman said following his win in the Pocono Organics CBD 325. “Jeff is super helpful, and he gets it from the organizational side, [and] from a racecar driver side, so that’s been super cool….When I started driving the No. 88 and sharing it with him, I didn’t really know Jeff. Of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, with him having to wear so many hats and having so much going on, that relationship probably took the longest to build”.

Much like the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers, Bowman’s Crew Chief Greg Ives and other HMS employees are excited to have Gordon back in a full-time role.

“Jeff gave me time to talk [after Nashville],” Ives said. “He was able to give me 20 minutes of his time and give me advice and how to look at some different situations in the future because he’s experienced it. I think it’s a huge impact for Hendrick Motorsports to have that guy who has accomplished so much but also has had a long career”.

Although Gordon said rejoining Hendrick Motorsports in a full-time role was an easy decision, it was tough for him to leave the FOX booth. He mentioned how much he enjoyed working with Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip, and Larry McReynolds over his six seasons on TV, and how he really enjoyed his time working with Clint Bowyer in 2021.

“The skit that Clint and I did at Daytona was the hardest I’ve laughed in a long time,” Gordon said about his favorite FOX memories. “That all came together in about a week. There was the whole buildup of if we could pull it off, what’s HR going to think, where are we going to get these cars, and what are we going to do with them once we get on track. To see that play off the way that it did was definately one of my favorite moments”.

Gordon’s departure from FOX leaves speculation as to what FOX will do with their on-air talent in 2022. Will the network revert back to a two-man booth like they did in 2020, or will a new driver join Joy and Bowyer come springtime?

Although fans will miss Gordon on TV, his ever-growing presence at Hendrick Motorsports will continue to take the team to growing heights. With four young drivers each in the prime of their careers, HMS will be a force for years to come under the leadership of Jeff Gordon.

NASCAR: Kurt Busch takes home a family affair at Atlanta

After his team made a major announcement, Kurt Busch held off his younger brother Kyle to earn the 33rd win of his NASCAR Cup Series career.

With Vin Diesel’s Fast and Furious mantra turned meme embarking on a relentless invasion of social media, it was only appropriate that Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series affair would take on a familial theme.

Kurt Busch, driver No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, held off his younger brother Kyle to win the Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The elder Busch made the fateful pass with just over 23 laps to go in the 260-circuit event to become the 12th different winner of the 2021 Cup Series season.

“We beat Kyle! I taught that kid everything he knows; he should be grateful,” Kurt Busch jokingly remarked, per notes from NASCAR. “What a battle. What a genuine, awesome, old-school racetrack.”

Kurt Busch’s victory comes at a crucial time for his team. All properties of Chip Ganassi Racing, including equipment and characters, were sold to Trackhouse Racing on June 30, a sale that will fully take effect after the 2021 season. Trackhouse is owned by former driver Justin Marks (who previously partook in Ganassi’s defunct Xfinity Series program, winning the 2016 Mid-Ohio event) and philanthropist/recording artist Pitbull, who field the No. 99 Chevrolet driven by Daniel Suarez.

Sunday’s event at Atlanta was thus poetic in more ways than one: Kurt Busch may have had some assistance from teammate Ross Chastain.

As the Busch brothers battled for the lead in the final stanzas, they approached Chastain’s slower No. 42. While Chastain didn’t appear to actively block Kyle, he more or less mimicked his draft, cutting off his access to clean air. Kurt was thus able to get by and build a healthy lead before his brother made one last push to no avail. The final margin of victory was 1.237 seconds.

Kyle was reportedly upset with Chastain’s apparent interference but nonetheless ventured to victory lane to congratulate his brother. Afterward, Kurt defended his teammate’s actions. Chastain is running his first season in Ganassi’s No. 42, previously piloted by Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Kyle Larson.

“He did stop by Victory Lane and do the Kyle Busch grumpy. That’s what I expected,” Kurt Busch said of Kyle’s reply. “What happened on track was the perfect scenario for a teammate to do the work that he needed to do. If I’m running third, Ross isn’t part of the equation. That was exactly what a teammate needs to do, and Ross did that in a way that gave me a sense of pride in the education and the mentorship that I have helped Ross with this year. It was a perfect give-back.”

Chastain, who finished 21st, was among the first to congratulate Busch after he crossed the start/finish line. He’ll likely need a win to join the No. 1 in the Cup Series postseason as he sits 145 points out of the final playoff spot, now held by sixth-place finisher Tyler Reddick.

“Can we do that in the playoffs? No,” Kurt Busch said. “Can you do that in a regular season where one guy has won and one guy is trying to run hard? Today was a perfect scenario for that to unfold, and Kyle will get over it pretty quick.”

“I believe that no line was crossed, and it was that right finesse to make it happen.”

The Busch brothers each took home the victories in the first two 80-lap stages of the race. Kurt, the 2004 Cup Series champion, earned the 33rd win of his career to tie Fireball Roberts for 25th place on the all-time wins list. His return to the playoffs guarantees Ganassi at least one more shot at a NASCAR championship. CGR has earned 18 major racing championships (including nine in IndyCar) but none at the NASCAR level, its closest attempt coming in 2001 with Sterling Marlin (3rd).

Busch’s victory, his first since last September at his home track of Las Vegas and his fourth all-time at AMS (most amongst active drivers), also comes at the final NASCAR event at Atlanta before the track is repaved and reconfigured for next year’s visit. The old surface required repairs shortly after the end of the second stage, necessitating a red flag period that lasted about 20 minutes.

Martin Truex Jr. finished third, while Alex Bowman and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action on July 18, as the Foxwoods Resort Casino will be held at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

For full Sunday results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Chase Elliott reclaims road course crown at Road America

Elliott’s seventh road course win is good for sole possession of third place in NASCAR Cup Series history.

It had been a long time since the NASCAR Cup Series descended upon Elkhart Lake’s Road America road course in Wisconsin. Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, made sure the uniqueness was kept to a minimum.

As the Cup Series held its first event at Road America since 1956, Elliott reclaimed his road course crown by passing Kyle Busch on lap 46 of 62 to take home the Jockey Made in America 250. Christopher Bell got by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch to finish second while Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin, another Gibbs Toyota, rounded out the top five at the 4.048-mile circuit.

The defending NASCAR Cup Series champion has now won seven races on road courses, good for sole possession of third place in the circuit’s history. Only Jeff Gordon (9) and Tony Stewart (8) have won more. Elliott previously won in May at the rain-shortened event at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. HMS Chevys also returned to victory lane after a one-race pause at Pocono last Sunday, having now won seven of the last eight points-paying events.

Elliott’s latest road course triumph was an uphill battle. During Sunday morning’s qualifying session, the No. 9 failed to finish a full-speed lap in the allotted window, forcing him to start in the 34th position. He was able to move up to 10th by the end of the first 14-lap stage (won by HMS teammate William Byron), assisted by some teams that pitted late for strategy purposes. The No. 9 led its first laps at the onset of the third and final segment, passing Matt DiBenedetto at lap 38.

Kyle Busch briefly got back out front when a majority of the field made its final pit stop under caution at lap 44, a sequence initiated by Anthony Alfredo’s spin into the gravel in Turn 1. Elliott quickly resecured the lead and coasted over the final 17 laps of green flag racing, beating out Bell by a 5.7-second margin.

At over four miles, Road America is one of the most daunting visits on the NASCAR circuit. But the only time the distance affected Elliott’s No. 9 group was through his celebration. Eager to greet the fans at every turn, Elliott indulged those in Turn 5 with a victorious burnout, one that wound up tearing up his tires to the point he not only needed a push from the track’s safety crew but an impromptu pit stop at the stop finish line so his winning vehicle could make it to victory lane. The joyous reactions from his crew, however, were more than enough proof that the extra work was completely worth it.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Quaker State 500 presented by Walmart (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

For full Sunday results, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR Cup Series: Bubba Wallace happy but not satisfied after first top-5 finish with 23XI Racing

With his boss Michael Jordan watching from a Pocono Raceway skybox, Bubba Wallace wheeled his 23XI Racing Toyota Camry to fifth place on Sunday, registering the team’s first-ever top-5 and top-10 finish in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“We had a strategy and we stuck to it,” Wallace said postrace on Sunday. “Just proud of the effort, and got to keep going”.

That strategy involved riding out a classic fuel mileage race at Pocono on Sunday, being one of the few cars to make it to the finish line with fumes in the tank. Joe Gibbs Racing alliance teammate Kyle Busch came across the finish line first with less than a lap of gas and the car stuck in fourth gear to secure the victory.

“Good all-around weekend for the organization,” Wallace said. “[Busch has] been strong here at Pocono, [and] it’s good to see a Toyota in Victory Lane”.

With the invert from Saturday’s race at Pocono, Wallace started Sunday’s event in seventh place and came across the finish line fifth to end Stage 1. The 27-year-old dropped back to 17th at the end of Stage 2, however, the team’s fuel strategy enabled them to climb up to fifth by the end of the race.

“It’s so easy to get put in the hornet’s nest [at Pocono],” Wallace said. “I knew our car was good enough to be top-10, [but] I didn’t know it would come down to a nailbiter with fuel”.

Wallace earned 38 points in Sunday’s top-5 finish, putting him 20th in the standings with seven races remaining until the start of the playoffs. He sits just 54 points outside the top-16 of points, well within striking distance of the postseason grid. However, the only obstacle standing in Wallace’s way are three high-speed road courses on the schedule, including Road America this weekend.

“I’m excited [about Road America],” Wallace said. “It’s been six years [since I’ve been there], but it’s like riding a bike. [I’ve] been there on the TRD simulator, it’s been good. [I’ll] plug in some time next week and really get ready”.

Although Wallace and 23XI Racing are thrilled to check off a top-5 finish, the team is hungry for more.

“Hopefully we can get our No. 23 Toyota Camry to Victory Lane soon,” Wallace said. “Fifth is good, but it’s not great”.

Trackhouse Racing to buy out Chip Ganassi Racing NASCAR operation

Trackhouse Racing, owned by Justin Marks and Pitbull, announced on Wednesday that the team would be buying out Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR operation.

“This process took several weeks and I want to thank Chip for being so open and candid with me every step of the journey,” Marks said. “Chip has built an iconic motorsports empire and the Ganassi brand is globally recognized as a winner in the auto racing industry.”

Ganassi described that his NASCAR team wasn’t for sale, however, Marks gave him a deal and a vision for the team that he couldn’t turn down. Marks wanted to grow Trackhouse Racing into a top-tier NASCAR team and this is another step in that direction.

Trackhouse Racing will acquire Ganassi’s NASCAR shop, car charters, and other assets. The team will remain in the growing alliance with Richard Childress Racing and other teams such as Richard Petty Motorsports and Kaulig Racing.

Trackhouse Racing will run a two-car operation in 2022 with Daniel Suarez remaining as the driver of the No. 99 car. Suarez has a top-5 and three top-10 finishes in 19 starts this season. The driver of the second car won’t be announced until a later date. Trackhouse is expected to sell its current charter and use both of Ganassi’s next season.

With the elimination of Ganassi’s NASCAR team, current drivers Kurt Busch and Ross Chastain are without rides in 2022. Both drivers are reportedly being considered for the Trackhouse ride while Busch has also supposedly been linked to a potential second car for 23XI Racing.

Additional details will be reported once they become available.

NASCAR Cup Series: Kyle Busch wins the Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 in dramatic fuel mileage race

After finishing second in both the Camping World Truck Series race and the Cup Series race on Saturday, Kyle Busch was finally able to turn his bad luck around, winning the Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 in the NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday.

“This is a really good place for us,” Busch said. “Our guys do a really good job of coming here with really fast stuff”.

However, this win was certainly no cakewalk for Busch and the No. 18 team. Sunday’s race turned into a typical Pocono fuel mileage race, as well as Busch having to deal with a broken transmission for the majority of the race.

“I was just rolling around under yellow, scrubbing my tires, getting ready for the restart, and it popped out of gear,” Busch detailed. “When we took the green on the restart, everything was fine, shifting into gears, getting into fourth was fine, and then I’m holding it down the backstretch and chaos ensued….. the next caution comes out, I go to hit the shifter to see what’s wrong with it, and it’s stuck. Like it’s welded in fourth gear”.

Busch made trips down pit road for his crew to try and fix it, however, the team was unable to get the car out of fourth gear. The No. 18 car was forced to lay back on restarts due to lack of acceleration, but the car’s overall speed propelled Busch up with the leaders.

After cycling through from his final pitstop, Busch sat in fourth place with eight laps to go. The leader at the time was the No. 2 car of Brad Keselowski, however, he was forced to pit early and surrender his lead.

“We ran a really good race, but didn’t have enough fuel to make it to the end,” Keselowski, the third-place finisher said. “They beat us on power and fuel mileage, so we have a lot of work to do to keep up with those guys”.

William Byron assumed Keselowski’s lead when Keselowski was forced to pit on lap 132. He maintained the lead until three laps remained when Byron ran out of fuel himself.

“The goal for half the run was to run hard and get everyone else to pit and [then] we’d have to pit for less time,” Byron said. “Sometimes it hurts to have a fast car because you burn more fuel”.

Byron made it to pit road on fumes and was able to get back on the track for a 12th place finish.

After Byron ran out of fuel, Denny Hamlin landed in the catbird seat. Hamlin remained the leader for just over a lap when he ran out of fuel with two laps to go. That set up Busch to take his second victory of the season and his fourth in his Cup Series career.

Overall, it was a much improved day for Toyota teams, as all four Gibbs cars showed speed and both Hamlin and Busch were in contention for both Cup Series races this weekend. Martin Truex Jr. led 19 laps on Sunday and Bubba Wallace registered his first top-5 with 23XI Racing, all while team owner Michael Jordan was in attendance.

“[Jordan] understands,” Wallace said. “He wants to win, but he knows what it’s going to take for us to get there. It’s more from me, more from the team, it’s a more group effort. He’s in the background watching it and enjoying it….we’ll just keep plugging away forward”.

Busch, Kyle Larson, Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, and Wallace completed the top-5. Saturday’s winner Alex Bowman notably finished in the top-10 with a 7th place finish.

Larson continues to lead the playoff standings, while Hamlin continues to lead in overall Cup Series points. The Cup Series is back in action next Sunday at Road America for the Jockey Made in America 250 Presented by Kwik Trip. That race will begin at 2:30 PM Eastern time on NBC.

NASCAR: Kyle Busch good to the last drop at Pocono finale

Kyle Busch had just enough fuel to win the second half of the NASCAR Cup Series’ weekend doubleheader at Pocono Raceway.

It wasn’t pretty, but Kyle Busch ended Hendrick Motorsports’ monopoly on the NASCAR Cup Series in style on Sunday afternoon at Pocono Raceway.

Busch fought an ill-handling No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and saved just enough fuel in the final stages to win the Explore the Pocono Mountains 350, the latter of a Cup Series weekend doubleheader in Pennsylvania. The win snaps a six-race winning streak for Rick Hendrick’s team, though Kyle Larson, the winner of three of those races, finished in the runner-up spot.

“Even though we were in the back and behind and having to come through and persevere through being stuck in fourth gear, no clutch, all that stuff it’s all burned out…It was awesome today,” Busch told NBC Sports after exiting his car. “Great job to my team. Thanks to (crew chief) Ben Beshore. Thanks to Matt (Tyrrell) the fuel guy for getting it full. That’s a big important one today. Really great to take home another checkered flag.

Shortly after the halfway mark of the 140-lap event at the “Tricky Triangle”, Busch’s No. 18 got stuck in fourth gear due to transmission issues. Things became so dire for the JGR team that a crew member had to enter the car during the caution at the end of the second stage in an ultimately futile attempt to fix it. Busch retreated to the rear of the field while at the onset of the third and final stage, the first two won by Martin Truex Jr. and HMS rep William Byron.

The race turned into a fuel mileage struggle after the caution came for Erik Jones’ encounter with the wall at lap 93. Busch joined several others on pit road, seeking to stretch out one final tank of fuel over 47 final laps. The fuel window at the 2.5-mile triangle is often open for 42-45 laps.

Contenders dwindled as they slowly ran out of fuel over the final laps. Byron threatened to keep the HMS streak alive but was forced to pit road with two laps to go. The stage was set for a battle between JGR Toyotas, but Busch’s teammate Denny Hamlin ran dry on the final turn of the penultimate lap. Busch had just enough to finish the 140th circuit and capture the 59th Cup Series victory of his career. That gives him sole possession of ninth place on the all-time Cup Series wins list, breaking a tie with fellow Sunday racer Kevin Harvick.

Brad Keselowski led the most laps on Sunday with 31. He beat out Harvick for third, while Bubba Wallace rounded out the top five. Wallace’s finish is good for the first top-five/ten finish the history of 23XI Racing, the team co-owned by Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action on Independence Day, as the circuit makes its first run on the Road America road course in Elkhart Lake, WI since 1956 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

For full results, click here.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR Xfinity Series: Austin Cindric holds off pesky Ty Gibbs to win the Pocono Green 225 Recycled by J.P. Mascaro & Sons

Austin Cindric led 26 laps and held off a pesky Ty Gibbs to win the Pocono Green 225 Recycled by J.P. Mascaro & Sons in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

“We were about two-tenths faster [than Cindric]” said Gibbs, the second-place finisher. “[If I had one more lap], I definately could’ve had another shot [to get him]”.

Gibbs led 11 laps, which was the fourth most of all drivers in the race. Daniel Hemric (18) and Harrison Burton (21) each led more laps than him, but Cindric led more than all of them en route to his fourth Xfinity Series victory of the season.

“[Gibbs was] gifted a three-second buffer and it’s his job to do something with it,” Cindric said. “I think [Gibbs] did everything he could, he ran a great race. I felt our strategy was a little bit better, [we] were fairly evenly matched throughout the day in clean air, so I just tried to manage my stuff and my gap and it worked out for us in the end”.

Cindric took the lead on lap 75 at the end of the pit cycle with a significant lead over Gibbs. As laps ticked down, Gibbs slowly cut into Cindric’s lead and narrowed it to within a second with just a few laps left. Cindric was almost collected by the No. 66, a lap car, when he ran out of fuel. However, he managed to avoid him and barely hold onto a victory.

“I thought he was going to run the apron, but then he didn’t have the capacity to do so,” Cindric said. “It was almost worst case scenario with a three second lead”.

Harrison Burton started the race from the pole position, led the first 21 laps, and won the first stage over teammate Daniel Hemric. Burton lost his lead during pitstops, and then wrecked out of the race on lap 38. His crash was right at the end of Stage 2, just four laps after a scary accident involving Justin Haley and Ryan Vargas.

Haley was turned from behind and into the inside wall, eventually coming up the track and collecting the No. 6 of Ryan Vargas.

“I didn’t know that anyone was outside of me or behind me with such momentum,” Haley said. “It just kind of knocked the wind out of me”.

Vargas, sitting 25th in the standings, had nowhere to go when Haley came up the track.

“I just hate it,” Vargas said. “I hate tearing up cars. I’ve helped build this racecar…. I hate tearing up Johnny [Davis’s] racecars because it’s the last absolute thing I’m supposed to do”.

While Haley and Vargas weren’t completely sure how the crash happened, Haley’s teammate and fifth-place finisher AJ Allmendinger had a view of the crash from his No. 16 car.

“It looked like the No. 8 car just absolutely destroyed him,” Allmendinger said. “When I saw him [get turned], I knew that was going to be a massive hit…..I’m just happy that he’s okay”.

Haley was scheduled to run the second race of the Cup Series doubleheader at Pocono Raceway in the No. 77 car for Spire Motorsports. However, under an abundance of caution, the team took Haley out of the car and replaced him with Justin Allgaier, who finished third in the Xfinity Series race.

In addition to the Haley/Vargas crash and the Burton crash, Josh Williams and Santino Ferrucci collided in the first stage while Riley Herbst crashed in the third stage.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series returns to action next Saturday for the Henry 180 at Road America.

“I’m always pumped to go to Road America,” Allmendinger said. “It’s a beautiful place, [it’s] Fourth of July weekend…. what a place to go to”.

NASCAR Cup Series: Larson blows tire on final lap, Bowman steals victory at Pocono

With four laps to go in the NASCAR Cup Series Pocono Organics CBD 325, Kyle Larson assumed the lead from Alex Bowman after Bowman jumped ahead on a late-race restart.

Three laps to go. Two laps to go.

As time was running out, Larson’s lead expanded, and it seemed that the driver of the No. 5 would be well on his way to his fourth consecutive Cup Series points-paying victory.

One lap to go. One turn to go.

And then: BANG!

Larson suddenly blew a tire, hitting the turn three wall hard, gifting a victory to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman.

“It’s a bummer,” Larson said postrace. “At least we showed everyone that we were going to win another one and just bad luck took it from us”.

However, it’s a completely different attitude for the No. 48 squad, as Bowman’s good luck helped him secure his third victory of the 2021 season.

“This is the strangest win I’ve ever been a part of,” Bowman said. “I thought I was [going to run] 2nd, which was still going to be a good day for us with how we struggled throughout the course of the day, but then he blows a tire and we win”.

Bowman ran around 10th place for most of the day, but a late-race debris caution allowed him to advance to the front-row with the choose-cone rule. He launched into first place behind a push from Ryan Blaney and was passed by Larson with four laps remaining. Bowman regained the lead in turn three of the final lap to hold on for the victory.

“Our plan was to minimize our [final] stop and get enough fuel to make it to the end, and we did that with two right-side tires,” Crew Chief Greg Ives said. “12 gallons [of fuel] is what we needed, maybe a little less with cautions. We were lined up fourth on that restart coming to the choose cone, and he elected to take the bottom, and that obviously was the winning move”.

While Ives instructed Bowman to pit right before the end of Stage 1 for track position in Stage 2, Kyle Busch stayed out and won the opening stage fresh of his Camping World Truck Series defeat just hours before. Larson started the race from the pole position, but surrendered the lead to teammate William Byron on Lap 5, just prior to an early debris caution.

Just a lap after the debris caution returned to green, Cole Custer’s day ended early after colliding with Brad Keselowski on the frontstretch.

“It was just a tight hole [that I was trying to pass in],” Custer said. “At least we don’t have to wait a whole week and sulk about it, we can just go back tomorrow and get it done”.

Stage 2 was taken by the older of the Busch brothers, Kurt, for some much-needed stage points for the No. 1 team. Younger brother Kyle dropped to ninth, while Larson, Joey Logano, William Byron, and Ryan Blaney finished in positions two through five.

The second stage featured a trio of incidents, including a Ryan Newman spin on lap 54, a wreck involving Corey LaJoie and Anthony Alfredo on lap 61, and a blown tire off the car of Ross Chastain. Stage 3’s only caution was the debris caution to set up the dramatic finish.

With eight races until the playoffs, Kyle Larson leads the playoff standings with Denny Hamlin leading in overall points. Austin Dillon is the final driver in on points, while Kurt Busch sits 24 points away from the top-16.

The top-20 of Saturday’s will be inverted to start the finale of the Pocono Doubleheader on Sunday. That puts Chris Buescher and Michael McDowell on the front row after finishing 20th and 19th, respectively. Custer, Newman, Larson, Chastain, LaJoie, Alfredo, and Ryan Preece have had their backup cars approved, and will start Sunday’s race from the rear. Chase Elliott also has severe damage and is expected to switch to a backup car.

Race No. 2 of the Pocono Raceway Doubleheader begins Sunday at 3:30 PM Eastern Time on NBCSN. The Xfinity Series race will start at 12:00 PM, also aired by NBCSN.