Aric Almirola advances in playoffs after ‘wild and crazy’ Roval experience

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CONCORD, N.C — Aric Almirola thought his day and his playoff hopes were destroyed.

Being in a 15-car pileup with six laps left in a race can do that to a person.

Almirola believed he had avoided the wreck in Turn 1 of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. Then Bubba Wallace plowed into the back of his No. 10 Ford and sent him into a group of cars that had appeared in front of him.

Even before the crash, Almirola’s maiden voyage on the 17-turn, 2.28-mile course, and the weekend leading up to it had been a nightmare. Or as Almirola called it, “adversity.”

In practice Friday and Saturday, he spun in Turn 3, backing his car into the same area of the wall.

“I was really anxious all week leading into it, and I’ll be honest, I prayed a lot just for ‑‑ just hoping that everything would work out,” Almirola said. “I kept telling myself to quit making mistakes like I did in practice. … It was just one of those weekends. It was just wild and crazy and out of control.”

On Sunday, Almirola hit the frontstretch wall with five laps to go in Stage 1 while trying to avoid William Byron as he lost his right front tire. He then brought out the caution on Lap 70 after being forced off track in Turn 6 by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and running through a Bojangles’ advertisement.

After all that and the Turn 1 pileup, his team was able to make his car raceable for the final three laps.

“That last restart they told me I was ‑6 points and that I needed to go,” said Almirola, who “rifled” his car into Turn 1 and passed three cars even after wheel-hopping.

“Then we came back to the start‑finish line and they told me I needed three more spots, and those last couple laps I was able to get those three spots,” said Almirola, who passed Daniel Suarez for 19th entering Turn 1 on the last lap. “I had one more in my sights, and somebody spun off of the infield Turn 4, and it was just a cloud of smoke. I couldn’t see where I was going, so I checked up because the last thing I needed to do was wreck.”

When he came across the finish line in 19th, Almirola was told he was in a tie with Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson with 2,097 points.

Johnson was eliminated after finishing eighth due to his last-lap incident with Martin Truex Jr. Larson advanced after passing a stalled Jeffrey Earnhardt right before the start-finish line.

Thanks to his finish at Richmond (fifth), Almirola advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time.

“I told (crew chief) Johnny Klausmeier going into this weekend all I really cared about was leaving here +1,” said Almirola. “It turns out +0 is good enough.”


Daniel Hemric fastest in first Coca-Cola 600 practice

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Daniel Hemric was fastest in the first Cup Series practice session for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.

Hemric posted a top speed of 182.791 mph around Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He was followed by Chase Elliott (182.340 mph), William Byron (182.211), Kyle Busch (182.168) and Jimmie Johnson (182.168).

Alex Bowman was seventh to put all four Hendrick Motorsports cars in the top 10.

Austin Dillon in eighth gave Chevrolet six cars in the top 10.

Landon Cassill recorded the most laps in the session with 37. He was 32nd on the speed chart.

Click here for the speed chart.

Shane Lee to drive for new Xfinity team with Circuit City sponsorship

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Former Richard Childress Racing driver Shane Lee will compete for a new Xfinity Series team, H2 Motorsports, the team announced Thursday at Charlotte Motor speedway

Owned by 23-year-old entrepreneur and venture capitalist Matt Hurley, the team will be sponsored by Circuit City and will field Lee in the No. 28 Toyota with support from Toyota Racing Development. They’ll debut June 16 at Iowa Speedway with plans to compete for the rest of the season.

Circuit City, which is primarily an online store now, was notably a sponsor of Hut Stricklin from 1996-98 in the Cup Series.

“I grew up an avid race fan, my parents are from the Midwest and I’ve followed the sport very, very closely since I was a young kid,” Hurley said. “More recently felt like there was an opportunity to go into the sport and bring some of our invested brands back into the sport. I’ve really taken an interest in kind of trying to find a way in.

“We felt like now is the right time to enter the sport, to come in in a competitive way. … Felt like TRD was the right partner to help us do that in a competitive way.”

Lee, 25, competed in the Xfinity Series last year, making 13 starts in RCR’s No. 3 Chevrolet. His best result and only top five was a fourth-place finish at Kansas Speedway in October.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Lee said. “I met Matt at a couple races last year. We actually became pretty good friends and we weren’t really even working on a racing deal. Probably January or February we started talking about the race deal and wanting to get into racing. We sort of went from there and he got himself figured out and he really went down the line and hired some really good people.”

Lee will be paired with crew chief Pete Rondeau. Rondeau has 103 Cup races to his name, including as crew chief for Regan Smith’s 2011 Southern 500 win.

Rondeau also has one Xfinity Series win with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Bristol in 2004.

“I’ve had a history of accepting challenges,” Rondeau said. “As we did with Furniture Row team, we worked hard and … it ended up flourishing into a championship-caliber team. To me this is no different right here. We have a good core group and I’m happy to work with them. It’s going to be fun and a whole lot of work at the same time.”

Gallery: Coca-Cola 600 patriotic paint schemes

Photos by Daniel McFadin
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With Memorial Day weekend here, many NASCAR teams will be racing patriotic paint schemes in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Here’s a look at the unique schemes that will compete in NASCAR’s longest race.

All photos by Daniel McFadin.

Landon Cassill – No. 00 Chevrolet

Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford

Ryan Newman – No. 6 Ford

Aric Almirola – No. 10 Ford

Ty Dillon – No. 13 Chevrolet

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – No. 17 Ford

William Byron – No. 24 Chevrolet

Corey LaJoie – No. 32 Ford


Michael McDowell – No. 34 Ford

Matt Tifft – No. 36 Ford

David Ragan – No. 36 Ford

Ryan Preece – No. 47 Chevrolet

Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet

Cody Ware – No. 51 Ford

Bayley Currey – No. 52 Ford

BJ McLeod – No. 53 Chevrolet

Alex Bowman – No. 88 Chevrolet


Kyle Larson wins Speed 51 Open kart race

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Kyle Larson kept his winning ways going Wednesday night when he won an Outlaw Kart race at Millbridge Speedway in Salisbury, North Carolina.

Four days after his win in the Monster Energy All-Star Race, Larson took the lead on Lap 2 of the 51-lap Speed 51 Open and led the rest of the way.

Larson held off Chase Majdic for the win, his second in the event.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver won despite losing his muffler in the middle of the race and having to replace his left side upper wing earlier in the night after a qualifying event.

Larson has a busy weekend ahead of him with World of Outlaws races at The Dirt Track at Charlotte on Friday and Saturday night, the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, and the Word of Outlaws’ Memorial Day Classic at Lawrenceburg Speedway in Indiana on Monday.