Aric Almirola ended third longest drought between first, second Cup wins

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Despite being just over four years ago, July 6, 2014 feels like it was in another lifetime.

Now imagine how Aric Almirola felt prior to his win Sunday in the Cup race at Talladega.

It had been 149 races since Almirola first visited Victory Lane in the Cup Series. He won the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in 2014 driving Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 Ford.

When Almirola passed Kurt Busch coming to the checkered flag Sunday, it snapped the third-longest streak of starts between wins No. 1 and No. 2 in the Cup Series.

Here are the top five longest streaks.

1. Martin Truex Jr.  – 218 starts between wins

Truex’s first win came on June 4, 2007 at Dover International Speedway while driving Dale Earnhardt Inc.’s No. 1 Chevrolet.

He would have to wait until June 23, 2013 at Sonoma Raceway to get win No. 2, this time coming in Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 56 Toyota

2. Jamie McMurray – 165 starts between wins

McMurray famously earned his first Cup win in his second career start. Subbing for an injured Sterling Marlin in Chip Ganassi’s No. 40 Dodge, McMurray won on Oct. 13, 2002 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Win No. 2 did not present itself until July 7, 2007 at Daytona. Driving the No. 26 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, McMurray beat Kyle Busch by five-thousandths of a second to return to Victory Lane.

3. Aric Almirola  – 149 starts between wins

4. Ward Burton – 131 starts between wins

Burton won his first Cup race in his sophomore season, driving the No. 22 Pontiac for Bill Davis Racing. He won on Oct. 22, 1995 at Rockingham Motor Speedway.

Five years later and still driving the No. 22 for Davis, Burton returned to Victory Lane on March 19, 2000 at Darlington Raceway.

5. Morgan Shepherd – 115 starts between wins

After making eight Cup starts from 1970 – 1978, Shepherd finally ran a majority of the schedule in 1981, running all but the first two races. His first win came relatively quickly in race No. 9 on April 26 at Martinsville Speedway.

The second victory came on March 16, 1986 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Of Shepherd’s four career wins, three came at Atlanta.

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Silly Season includes crew chief moves at Hendrick Motorsports

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Matt DiBenedetto, whose career has often been overshadowed, got to bask in the attention surrounding his 2019 ride at Leavine Family Racing for a couple of hours Wednesday.

Then Hendrick Motorsports shook the sport by announcing it was splitting Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus – one of NASCAR’s greatest driver/crew chief combinations – after this season.

That just added to a Cup Silly Season that has already seen four drivers announce new rides for next year – and more to come with future announcements for Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Kurt Busch, among others.

Here’s a look at where things stand in Silly Season:

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2019

No. 6: Ryan Newman joins Roush Fenway Racing for next season (announcement made Sept. 22)

No. 13: Ty Dillon said he will remain at Germain Racing for the 2019 season (announcement made Sept. 24)

No. 31: Daniel Hemric replaces Ryan Newman at Richard Childress Racing beginning next season (announcement made Sept. 28)

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will remain with Richard Petty Motorsports through the 2020 season (announcement made July 28)

No. 47: Ryan Preece replaces AJ Allmendinger at JTG Daugherty Racing beginning next season (announcement made Sept. 28)

No. 95: Matt DiBenedetto moves to Leavine Family Racing for 2019. Leavine Family Racing also switches to Toyota beginning next year (announcement made Oct. 10)

CUP RIDES NOT YET ANNOUNCED FOR 2019

No. 1: The Associated Press reported Sept. 10 that car owner Chip Ganassi had offered Jamie McMurray a contract to drive in the 2019 Daytona 500 and then move into a management position. Ganassi was awaiting McMurray’s decision. The move means the No. 1 will be open for 2019.

No. 23: Front Row Motorsports purchased the BK Racing team in bankruptcy court in August. Front Row needs the team to run the rest of the season to maintain the charter. After this season, Front Row could run a third car, lease this charter or sell this charter.

No. 32: Go Fas Racing is looking for a driver after Matt DiBenedetto announced Sept. 7 that he won’t return to the team after this season.

No. 41: Kurt Busch signed a one-year deal in December to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing. He said Aug. 31 at Darlington that he has two contract offers for 2019 but did not reveal what teams they were from. Busch said Sept. 7 he had no updates on his status.

DRIVERS WITHOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR 2019

AJ Allmendinger: He has not announced what his plans will be for 2019.

Trevor Bayne: 2011 Daytona 500 winner is looking for a ride after the Sept. 12 announcement that he won’t return to Roush Fenway Racing in 2019. He told NBC Sports on Sept. 14 that he has been calling car owners looking for a ride and would look at any of NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Kurt Busch: 2004 champion’s contract expires after this season with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Jamie McMurray: Although he has not revealed his plans, car owner Chip Ganassi told the AP that he had offered McMurray a contract for only the 2019 Daytona 500 before McMurray would move into a management role.

Daniel Suarez: With reports stating that Martin Truex Jr. will go to Joe Gibbs Racing and drive the No. 19, Suarez is looking for a ride. He said Sept. 21 that “we’re talking to a lot of people.” Suarez is the favorite for the No. 41 ride.

Martin Truex Jr: Reigning series champion has not announced a ride for 2019 with the Sept. 4 news that Furniture Row Racing is shutting down after this season. Truex, though, is expected to move to the No. 19 at Joe Gibbs Racing and replace Daniel Suarez.

CREW CHIEF CHANGES

No. 24: Chad Knaus replaces Darian Grubb as William Byron‘s crew chief in 2019 (announcement made Oct. 10)

No. 48: Kevin Meendering will replace Chad Knaus as Jimmie Johnson‘s crew chief in 2019 (announcement made Oct. 10)

XFINITY SERIES

ANNOUNCED CHANGES FOR 2019

No. 1: Noah Gragson replaces Elliott Sadler at JR Motorsports beginning next year (announcement made Sept. 25).

Charlotte Roval penalty report

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NASCAR announced just one penalty from last weekend’s races on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Jamie McMurray‘s crew chief, Matt McCall, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut on the No. 1 Chevrolet.

McMurray finished second in the Bank of America Roval 400.

Results, stats for the Bank of America Roval 400

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Ryan Blaney scored his first win of the season and second of his career in the Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte.

He took the lead on the last lap after Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson crashed in the frontstretch chicane. Johnson finished eighth; Truex finished 14th.

Jamie McMurray followed Blaney through the carnage and finished second.

Clint Bowyer, Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five.

Click here for complete results

What drivers said after the Charlotte Roval

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Ryan Blaney — Winner: “We restarted sixth the last one there and got to third with a couple to go. I was really just riding third. We were good to go on points and was going to advance to the next round on points no problems. They were so far ahead I wasn’t even really trying and then I saw them kind of close to each other through the oval track in three and four and I was like, ‘Oh, something might happen here.’ And we went down I there and they touched just trying to win the race and I was lucky to sneak through there. That’s not how you really want to win them. I’d rather go out and dominate the race and win by a lap, but you’ve got to take them how you can get them nowadays. We put ourselves in a spot to be there, though. We did a great job all day of winning a stage and putting us in a good spot for points. “

Jamie McMurray — Finished 2nd: “Our DC Solar Chevy was really good all day long. We got a little bit off in the last pit sequence. We got a little bit behind, but had a really good car and then we had the one restart when Brad (Keselowski) was on the front row and I happened to be on the inside and that was the lane to be in so you could avoid the wreck. And then on the last restart, I got a good restart being on the outside… a little bit disappointed only because my left-side mirror fell off in the chicane with like 25 laps to go and I ended up having to let the No. 12 (Ryan Blaney) go because I couldn’t see if he was inside of me. I don’t think he was. I’m like, if that wasn’t the case, you would be the guy in Victory Lane now versus finishing second, but overall it was a pretty fun day. I thought Marcus (Smith) and the team here did a really good job getting the track ready. It’s crazy that we ran a road course inside of this facility, but really great place.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 3rd: You knew something was going to happen at this deal.  Everybody knew, everybody dubbed this the wild card race, and I guess I’m lucky that I survived it, but I’m happy for our sport that it lived up to the expectation, up to the hype that you guys all sold.

… It wasn’t much sleep the last couple nights.  The little one woke up at 5:00 a.m., and once you’re up, you start thinking about this gremlin that’s ahead of you today, there wasn’t any more sleeping.  I stood there and watched the sun come up thinking about the chicane on the back straightaway, thought about the chicane on the front straightaway, thought about Turn 8, how I was going to get off that.  I hit the wall in Turn 8.  Just thought about restarts and things like that.

Now it’s time to think about a cold beer because, my God, I want one.

Alex Bowman — Finished 4th: “Yeah, it makes up for the fact that we probably should have won there. We just got boxed in that last restart. We had 20 lap fresher tires than all the guys in front of us. Things kind of fell our way there at the end to get us up front. Just got boxed in and couldn’t make it happen. Congrats to the No. 12 (Ryan Blaney) we were on the same strategy as them. It is what it is. Glad to make it in. A lot of people said we were going to be one of the guys out and to make it in and prove some of those guys wrong, definitely makes me feel good.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 5th: “I thought we did as good as job as communicating as a team and working together through all the different obstacles all weekend. The only thing that went against us is I had a bad restart on the outside lane once and I lost four or five spots and that’s when we were hanging out with the 48 and the 78 most of the day, so that means Billy Scott chose the right strategy. I just lost three or four spots on that one restart and then we gained some back on the next one, but too far. You’ve got to be like top four or top six if you want a shot at it and we were just a little bit too far behind at the end. All in all, maybe we got the most points out of today because we were second in the first stage, third in the second stage, so a lot of points today. We had to race that way, but the race almost came to us at the end.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 6th: “It was still kind of eventful for us. You look at how the day went there and just anything can happen. It’s just hard and you can’t feel comfortable in those situations there at the end. I wish I had been a little more aggressive on that last restart. I felt like I was just kind of playing defense. It’s just not worth busting your butt and not making it through to the next round when you had a little bit of cushion. So, I am just glad we are moving on and I am looking forward to the next three because there are some good tracks for us.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 8th: “I had been so good into that final breaking zone, I really felt like I could put some pressure on them and take a shot at it. I got out of the chicane on the back straightaway better than he did and put some pressure on him. Got him loose and off the bottom and I thought that was my chance. Unfortunately, down here through the bumps coming into that braking zone, I just locked up the rears (tires) and couldn’t control my car and spun. I didn’t think that I initially got into him, but clearly, I did and spun him around. Took myself out of a shot at the championship and obviously affected their day which I feel bad about. (Sigh) I wish I wouldn’t have been so focused on a race win and I could have transferred and kept my championship hopes alive, but we had such a good car and just one of those split-second decisions to race for the win instead of for the points and it bit me.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 9th: “Today actually went way better than I hoped it would. I think as you look at the way that we ran all day and where we ran all day, we were in the top 10 and up in the top five and back and forth, and just way better than we were yesterday. It’s tough starting behind your teammate who is trying to make it in there at the end. You’ve got to be careful with what you do and not drive in there too far and do something dumb. I lost a couple spots, but in the end it was a good day for us.”

Joey Logano — Finished 10th: “We executed the plan. The plan wasn’t fun, but we did the plan. My plan is to win a lot of times, not that if it was there we would have tried to take it, but in general to transfer was the ultimate goal and I’m happy we were able to do that.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 11th: “I told Johnny (Klausmeier) when we came in here, leaving here plus one will be fine with me. I guess plus zero is good enough too.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 14th: “Last corner desperation behind us, that’s what you get. I gave him (Johnson) the inside lane and he had the run through (Oval Turn) 4 and I was real tight down there. I let him have the inside going down inside coming out of four there to the chicane. He just over-drove it and was never going to make it and used me as brakes and turned us both around. It sucks, we could have raced side-by-side off the last corner for a win and that would have been cool. The fans would have been digging it, but instead we finished 14th and he’s locked out of the Playoffs. I guess that’s what he gets.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 25th: “I knew that it was going to be tough to turn getting into (Turn) 1. I didn’t know that all of us were going to go in there and not be able to turn at all. I was going to struggle to make the corner and then the No. 2 (Keselowski), he just went head-on into the wall. I was hoping I would have enough room to squeak by him, but I got into him and destroyed the right-front of our car. So, I mean I still don’t really know if we are in or not, but we had a great Clover by First Data Chevy today, led a bunch of laps, would have liked it to have played out there and just run to the end there. I was saving fuel and it sounded like the No. 2 was really short on fuel. I felt like I could have won, but the No. 17 (Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.) ended up spinning out and the caution came out. Obviously, we all went down on that restart and couldn’t turn, so like I said, I hope we made it, pretty hectic last lap for me. They said they were all crashing there at the end and I ran really hard and blew a right-front and hammered the wall twice and got at least one extra point. So, it sounds like we might be in a tie. Not sure who the tie breaker goes to, but hopefully it’s us.”

Erik Jones — Finished 30th: “It was a good year, but we just didn’t have a good first round. We didn’t finish in the top 10 in any races and that’s not going to get you to the next round. Some circumstances we couldn’t help, but we just need to get it better.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 31st: “The whole field went down into Turn 1 it looked like and we all went straight. I don’t know. Maybe we all overdrove it. Maybe the track had something on it. I don’t know. I got in the corner. I didn’t feel like I got in it, I got in hard, but not like ridiculously hard and it just locked up. I couldn’t get the tire to unlock, so I felt really, really dumb when I hit the wall and then I got back in the care center and saw the replay and saw everybody kind of did the same thing. I don’t know. It’s frustrating, but I really have to give a lot of credit to Paul Wolfe and the team on this Truck Alliance Parts Ford. This car was a rocket. I wrecked the car in practice and we unloaded this car just for the race and it was screaming fast. I thought we were gonna win today. It just didn’t come together.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 32nd: “I guess (the accident) just comes down to us all being on old tires and not really knowing what to expect or how much grip these tires would actually have. That’s about all that happened – we all over-drove the corner, and that’s all there is to it. I mean, you hate tearing up racecars and what not, but I guess they’re road course cars anyway, so you don’t necessarily need them anytime soon. Overall it just wasn’t a good day for our M&M’S Toyota Camry. It was going to be a fine day if we could’ve made it through that corner and had those other two guys out of our way, and then it was a race between the 78 (Truex) and us, but it doesn’t matter anyway.”

William Byron — Finished 34th: “We were having such a good run today – staying in the top 10 most of the day. It was definitely disappointing to have this happen so late in the race. We’ve run so good on the road courses. This was a good challenge, and I felt like we were making the most of it. The Roval is a good, new challenge, maybe we do better figuring out the restarts and clean up the track a little better because nobody could get any grip on the restart. But it was a good challenge.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 35th: “I’m really frustrated with that result. I felt like I put together a really good weekend and had speed. I never made any mistakes in practice, qualifying or the race for that matter until I got caught up on that last lap. I said it was gonna happen and I told my spotter, ‘They’re gonna crash in Turn 1, just get me through it,’ and they did. They all crashed. I made it through the first part of the wreck and I guess it was the 18 (Kyle Busch) that bounced off the front of the 8 (Daniel Hemric) and I couldn’t check up and hit him. I thought we were done wrecking and got the second one.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 37th: “I just struggled here all week, really. I didn’t feel comfortable at the test and then the infield section I feel like I was really good, and really from the time I got on the big track through the chicanes I was really struggling. We got some damage there on that restart when we were leading and our car was really loose after that and hard to drive.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 39th: I just … really wasn’t a mistake by me, the No. 37 (Chris Buescher) through NASCAR (turns) 3 and 4 I don’t know if it was damage or what, he got loose and when he did I was on the outside of him and I lost it after I tried to miss him. I hit the right-side wall and the damage ended up cutting our right-front (tire) down.”