Published: Wed, November 07, 2018
Sport | By Cameron Gross

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

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

The playoff chase has gone from the half-mile paperclip-shaped track at Martinsville to the high-speed 1 1/2-mile Texas layout where polesitter Ryan Blaney qualified at more than 200 miles per hour, along with Bowyer.

Team Penske's Joey Logano and Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick have already clinched berths in the Championship 4 by winning the opening two races of the round of 8, the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway and the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, respectively, leaving two spots open in the Championship 4 heading into the round of 8 finale. Harvick led 177 of the 337 laps. "Today we earned our way in and we're going to race again next week and try to win another race and then see what we can do at Homestead", Harvick concluded.

After taking the inside on the first two restarts, and briefly losing the lead after the second one, Harvick opted to start from outside for the green-white-checkered finish.

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.

"I thought if I could keep him from finishing the corner I could drive back by him", Harvick said. 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.

Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage also said the repaved Texas asphalt needs more weathering to improve the racing, which had only one real nugget of interest on the track all day: Aric Almirola took exception to Joey Logano racing him hard in the final stage.

At the end of Lap 171, it was Harvick who won yet another stage-his 18th of the year.

The success is even more impressive when you consider the changes that have taken place at SHR during his tenure, including different teammates and the organization's move from the Chevrolet to Ford camp last season.

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Kevin Harvick won for the 8th time and advanced to the Championship Four at Homestead. After Harvick regained the lead, he held it until a late caution forced a two-lap overtime session. Aric Almirola (eighth Sunday) and Clint Bowyer (26, after contact with Denny Hamlin's Toyota on Lap 1) are both in must-win situations.

"I'm telling you, God is testing us".

Harvick was on the inside again for the next restart, but Blaney was able to get by him for the lead. "We nearly caught him the first restart up top and then I did on the second one. He motored around me".

Neither Truex nor Kyle Busch had a great race on Sunday, though they salvaged reasonable results to stay well above the playoff cut line.

Defending Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., who had to start at the back of the field after an engine change, was fifth in the first stage, just ahead of Logano and Kyle Busch. He finished 17, the last driver on the lead lap. "To start exactly where we were I think is a decent day". "It's inevitable, and it's not a ideal scenario, it's not what we all wanted, but I think everybody on the team has done an unbelievable job of focusing in on the right things and continue to perform at a high level".

"If that is the way he wants to race me when he is already locked into Homestead and we are out here fighting for our lives, that is fine", Almirola said. If I sailed off in there as fast as he did, I would have got loose, wrecked us both.

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

The only stress for Harvick was lane choice for the overtime.

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