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Auto racing capsules: Aric Almirola advances with Talladega win

Oct. 14, 2018 Updated Sun., Oct. 14, 2018 at 7:51 p.m.

Aric Almirola celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the 1000Bulbs.com 500 NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, in Talladega, Ala. (Butch Dill / Associated Press)
Aric Almirola celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the 1000Bulbs.com 500 NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, in Talladega, Ala. (Butch Dill / Associated Press)
Associated Press

Aric Almirola capped an absolute Stewart-Haas Racing rout at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama with an overtime victory that earned him an automatic berth into the third round of NASCAR’s playoffs.

It also snapped a 149-race losing streak for Almirola and atoned for his oh-so-close moment in the season-opening Daytona 500.

“I just love racing at Talladega and I came to the track with the mindset that we were going to go race and we were going to go give them hell, and if we wrecked, we wrecked,” Almirola said. “And if we win, we win. And we won. What a cool time to do it, too.”

More important, it showed that SHR arrived at Talladega prepared to work as a four-car team and ensure one of its drivers made it to victory lane.

The SHR Fords were untouchable all weekend. They swept qualifying, won every stage of Sunday’s race and used teamwork to pull away from the field. As the laps wound down, Kurt Busch led his three teammates in a straight line and pulled the train away from the pack, which couldn’t organize itself behind the SHR group to mount any sort of challenge.

But the dynamics changed when Alex Bowman spun with three laps remaining to bring out an ill-timed caution.

Now the race was going to overtime, and two of the SHR cars didn’t have enough gas for the extra laps.

First Busch’s fuel light began to flicker. Then Kevin Harvick got the same warning. As the field roared to the green flag, Harvick forfeited a shot at victory by pulling off the track to get enough gas to make it to the finish.

Busch stayed out as the leader with Almirola and Clint Bowyer looking for a slot to slip past him for the victory. Then Busch ran out of gas headed to the checkered flag and Almirola zipped by for his first victory of the season, first since joining SHR this year as the replacement for Danica Patrick, and first since the rain-shortened Daytona race in July 2014. It was the second Cup victory of his career.

Almirola was also leading on the final lap in overtime of the season-opening Daytona 500 until he was wrecked by winner Austin Dillon.

Almirola thought he had last week’s race at Dover won until a caution triggered by teammate Bowyer ruined his shot at the victory. A week later, he got his checkered flag and his stamp into the round of eight into the playoffs.

“Four or five times this year I feel like we’ve had a shot to win and haven’t been able to seal the deal,” Almirola said.

Bowyer finished second. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished third in a Ford from Roush Fenway Racing.

The playoff field will be trimmed from 12 drivers to eight after next week’s race at Kansas Speedway.

The four drivers in danger of elimination next week at Kansas are Brad Keselowski, his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Bowman.

NHRA

Steve Torrence raced to his fourth straight Top Fuel victory to open the NHRA playoffs at the Carolina Nationals in Concord, North Carolina.

Torrence beat defending series champion Brittany Force with a 3.703-second run at 329.67 mph. The first Top Fuel driver to win the first four races of the Countdown to the Championship, he has nine victories this season and 25 overall.

Ron Capps won in Funny Car, Jason Line in Pro Stock and Matt Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

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