Tuesday, 13 November, 2018

NASCAR Cup Series: Aric Almirola must win at Phoenix to advance

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Cassandra Castillo | 07 November, 2018, 22:29

Kevin Harvick earned a shot at another NASCAR Cup championship, rocketing past polesitter Ryan Blaney in overtime Sunday to win at Texas.

The victory was Harvick's first since MI in August, and it broke a streak of bad luck during which the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford led laps but failed to find Victory Lane, thanks to mechanical issues or pit road mistakes. He cleared Blaney on the first restart but lost the lead on the second one and had to track Blaney down to take the lead back.

The 2014 champion joins Joey Logano of Team Penske - who won last weekend's Round of 8 race at Martinsville Speedway - in securing a berth in the season-ending, championship-deciding race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in two weeks. He swept both stages and led a race-high 177 laps. Elliott was sixth, followed by Kurt Busch and Almirola, who had also gone to the rear at the start of the race for unapproved body modifications. So Harvick picked the top lane for the first time and roared around Blaney in Turn 1.

Harvick started on the inside on restarts on laps 303 and 311. Like I told you guys before the race, we don't race for points. Blaney was the only challenger he really had, and that only came on restarts. The last one, he took the top, like I knew he was going to go. "I'm glad we got to win again here", he said.

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With less than 60 laps remaining in the second stage, Harvick maintained a small lead over Logano with Kurt Busch running in third. "He motored around me".

As a result, the only way by which Almirola's point total can possibly pass that of Truex Jr. - and even if this happens, it isn't guaranteed to do so - is if Almirola wins the race, at which point his point total will no longer matter for him anyway since he will have automatically clinched a berth in the Championship 4 because of the fact that wins automatically qualify drivers for the next round of the playoffs no matter which round is next. He had to pit on Lap 12 to replace a right-side tire damaged in the rub and went two laps down. Kyle Busch was 17th and Bowyer 26th after starting on the front row but making contact with Denny Hamlin on the first lap.

"If that's the way he wants to race me when he's already locked into to Homestead and we're out here fighting for our lives, that's fine", Almirola said.

UP NEXT: The last race in the third round of the playoffs, Sunday at Phoenix.

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