Aric Almirola’s speed neutralized by loose wheels, pit gun problems

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JOLIET, Ill. – The best car of Aric Almirola’s NASCAR career resulted in his second-worst finish of the 2018 season.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led a race-high 70 laps but finished 25th Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, victimized by two loose rear wheels that his team believes apparently happened because of a pit gun problem.

“That’s the best car I’ve ever had compared to the competition,” said Almirola, who also won the first stage after starting sixth. “It was just so fast. Our Smithfield Ford Fusion was excellent, especially out in clean air. It was just incredibly fast. We’ve just got to execute. We’ve got to put a whole race together. That’s the difference between being good and being great.

“We’re capable of winning. We showed it today. We’re capable. We’ve got speed. We’re bringing incredible race cars to the race track, and we’ve just got to put a whole day together. We’ve got to be flawless on pit road.”

It was a left-rear wheel that forced Almirola to pit from the lead on Lap 122 of 267. After cycling into the lead on Lap 135 because of being off-sequence, Almirola pitted from the lead under green on Lap 142 with a right-rear wheel that was loose.

Both times, he stayed on track a few laps after the vibration began, but “it was getting so violent, I couldn’t ride it out. It was really, really bad. I went a couple of extra laps hoping and praying for a caution, but it was getting so violent, I had to come.”

Crew chief Johnny Klausmeier said the team had no loose wheels on the No. 10 Ford during the first 16 races this season.

“It was ultimately our rear gun,” he said. “We had our backup gun on the front, and the RPMs kind of fluctuated in the race. We thought we had it fixed. The changer didn’t feel he was going fast. We have to figure out what went wrong and why it is. There’s nothing conclusive right now.

“I feel we gave up a ton of points. I feel like we could have been there right at the end. It just stinks.”

Almirola remains winless since joining SHR this season despite two agonizing near-misses at the second victory of his career. He was a half-lap from winning the Daytona 500 before being bumped from the lead by Austin Dillon.

“Really, really frustrated, but the good news is our cars are fast,” said Almirola, who is 11th in the points standings and 126 points ahead of the current cut line for the playoffs. “We can build on that.

“We’re going to win a race. I guarantee we’re going to win a race. We just got to be perfect to do it.”

Kyle Busch touts support he’s received for comments at Las Vegas

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RICHMOND, Va. — Kyle Busch says he’s received support from fellow drivers, who told him “what I said is not wrong” about the ability of some competitors.

Busch was upset last weekend after running into the back of Garrett Smithley’s car and being impeded by Joey Gase in the Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After the race, Busch told NBCSN: “We’re at the top echelon of motorsports, and we’ve got guys who have never won Late Model races running on the racetrack. It’s pathetic. They don’t know where to go. What else do you do?”

Smithley responded on social media and Gase later responded on social media.

MORE: Kyle Busch’s comments address murky issue with no solution 

Busch was asked Friday at Richmond Raceway if he watched video of the incident with Smithley since last week and if his opinion changed.

“I did see video of last week,” Busch said. “It doesn’t matter what my opinion is. I get beat up on it anyway.”

Busch was encouraged by support he received.

“I’ve had multiple texts from other people that are race car drivers and non-race car drivers this week that have said what I said is not wrong, but there’s other general masses that say different,” Busch said.

Busch’s race at Las Vegas started poorly when he hit the wall in the opening laps and went down two laps. He explained what happened:

“We started out, we practiced our car and we were pretty decent in practice, but I felt like I was a tick tight, so we made some changes going into the race to free it up,” Busch said. “The first run at Vegas is always looser. And I guess I didn’t mentally prepare myself for that enough, and we were 10 numbers loose, like crashing loose.

“I got myself in trouble. I got myself into the fence. Was able to battle back from all of that throughout everything of the day and put ourselves in position for a solid finish and we just didn’t get it.”

Asked what he could have done differently, Busch said:

“I should have been prepared for it,” he said. “I actually prepared (crew chief Adam Stevens) for it, but I guess didn’t prepare myself for it. I was getting passed, guys were going by me and I was falling backwards and I was like I got to go here, I’ve got to move forward and pushed too hard.”

Busch recovered to get back on the lead lap and was running in the top five when he had the contact with Smithley. Busch finished 19th.

“For as bad as our day started, we were certainly able to make something of it and come back for a top-four run until close to the end,” Busch said when asked if his frustration hurts his performance. “People want to say because of my state of mind that’s the reason I ran into the back of a slow car, that’s funny people know how I think and what I am inside my helmet. I don’t think that had anything to do with it.”

Busch, the regular-season champion, qualified fourth for Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Results, Xfinity point standings after Richmond playoff race

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Christopher Bell led a career best 238 laps Friday night on his way to winning the Xfinity playoff opener at Richmond Raceway.

It is his seventh win of the year, matching his total from 2018.

The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe.

Click here for the race results.

Playoff standings

Bell secured a spot in the second round of the playoffs with his win.

The four drivers currently below the cutline for advancing to the next round are Brandon Jones (-15 points from cutline), Ryan Sieg (-19), Justin Haley (-20) and John Hunter Nemechek (-21).

Click here for the point standings.

Christopher Bell wins Xfinity playoff opener at Richmond

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Christopher Bell put together a convincing win Friday night at Richmond Raceway to open the Xfinity Series playoffs.

Bell led 238 of 250 laps – a career high – and swept each stage to earn his seventh victory of the year, matching his total from 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has now won three of the last four races at Richmond and six of the last 11 short track races.

The top five was made up of pole-sitter Austin Cindric, Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe.

“That one was pretty special,” Bell told NBCSN. “Going 92 laps straight there is really difficult, man. We were sliding all around. I felt like if I could get to traffic I was going to be in good shape. Because my car could really move around good. I could run up, I could run down. (Cole Custer) was keeping pressure on us pretty good, but this Rheem Supra was too good.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Christopher Bell

STAGE 2 WINNER: Christopher Bell

More: race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Harrison Burton was the highest finishing non-playoff driver in sixth … Austin Cindric earned his first top five in the last four races. He finished second in both Richmond races this year … In his 300th career Xfinity start, Justin Allgaier finished fourth after he had to start from the rear for changing a tire … Chase Briscoe earned his first top five in the last five races.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Mike Marlar wasn’t able to complete the first lap of his first Xfinity start. He was involved in an incident and finished last … Vinnie Miller had a mechanical failure with 25 laps left in the first stage. He finished 35th … Tyler Matthews finished 33rd after he wrecked in Stage 1 … Playoff driver Justin Haley had a pit road penalty and finished 17th … John Hunter Nemechek finished 15th after he spun while trying to intentionally spin Joe Graf Jr. right before the race’s conclusion. It was retaliation for a bump-and-run by Graf earlier in the lap.

NOTABLE: Christopher Bell has a win percentage of 22%, third all-time in the Xfinity Series.

WHAT’S NEXT: Drive for the Cure 200 on the Charlotte Roval at 3:30 p.m. ET Sept. 28 on NBCSN

 

Provisional starting lineup for Richmond Cup race

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Playoff drivers Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick are on the provisional front row for Saturday’s Cup Series playoff race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The top five is completed by playoff drivers Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer.

The highest qualifying non-playoff driver is Jimmie Johnson (10th).

The lowest qualifying playoff driver was Joey Logano (28th).

The starting lineup will be made official after pre-race inspection Saturday. One failure will result in a qualifying time being disallowed.

Click here for the provisional starting lineup.