NASCAR Playoffs: Polar Opposites Show up at Bristol Before Round of 12

Two spots kept Aric Almirola off the Round of 12

Kyle Larson got his sixth win of the season in a nail-bitter at Bristol Motor Speedway. Larson had to fight Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and even his own teammate Chase Elliott for the win. On the other hand, Aric Almirola, STHR’s unluckiest driver, had to fight everyone, even his car. Only to fall two spots short of the Round of 12. Take a look at these polar opposites.

No Dirt? No Problem

Larson came into Bristol having qualified 5th. The track itself came into the night with no dirt this time, unlike last March. Dirt or not, he was still a favorite. He got to work as soon as polesitter Martin Truex Jr. started dropping spots.

Despite losing time with lapped traffic, Larson had half a straightaway lead over Hamlin midway through the second stage. Anthony Alfredo went hard into the wall and collected Corey LaJoie and BJ McLeod as he was coming down the track. This brought Larson and everyone else to a halt as a red flag was needed to clean debris off the track. He came back and finished the job to win stage 2.

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Stage 3 was not different. The favorite had to fight for it but found his way to Victory Lane and his ticket to the Round of 12.

Almirola on the other hand, was a completely different story.

The Unluckiest of Underdogs

Stewart-Haas Racing’s number 10 qualified 12th and came into Bristol as an underdog. A capable underdog, as his performance in New Hampshire, proved that when he’s got it going, anything is possible. Such was the case on Saturday night until lap 49. Almirola’s Smithfield Mustang suddenly resembled a locomotive engine leaving a trail of smoke behind him. He came down pit road to fix the issue or, so he thought. The Cuban-American driver then pitted again, and again to finally stop the oil leak. That sent him the 27th spot and his race seemed more than over.

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Nonetheless, pit strategy served him well and he, thanks to his pit crew, was able to run inside the top 10 for most of the second stage. This was enough to make it to the next round on points. Unfortunately for him, the same thing that kept him in the dance, kicked him right out of it.

His last pitstop saw him back in the track at the 17th spot. All he had to do was gain two spots to make it. Easier said than done at “The Last Great Coliseum”. He fought well and fought hard, but at the end of the day, the challenge was too big for the little Mustang. Almirola was out of the Playoffs race as soon as he crossed the finish line.

Who’s In?

The Round of 12 is set and these drivers will fight for a spot in the next round over the next three weeks:

  • Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports
  • Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing
  • Ryan Blaney, Team Penske
  • Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing
  • Joey Logano, Team Penske
  • Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsport
  • Brad Keselowski, Team Penske
  • Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports
  • Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports

What’s Next for NASCAR?

The Rounds of 12 kicks off Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the South Point 400.

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Feature Image: Getty Images

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