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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Preliminary entry lists for Cup, Xfinity at Kansas

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NASCAR returns to the Midwest this weekend for its second visit of the year to Kansas Speedway.

The Cup Series holds its second-round elimination race Sunday.

The Xfinity Series begins its second round Saturday.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for each race:

Cup – Hollywood Casino 400 (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

There are 40 entries.

Kyle Weatherman is entered in StarCom Racing’s No. 99 Chevrolet. It would be his fifth start for the team this season.

Kevin Harvick won at Kansas in May from the pole, beating Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano. This race last year was won by Truex from the pole. He beat Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Kansas Lottery 300 (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC)

There are 42 cars entered. Two cars will not qualify.

Angela Ruch, niece of Derrike Cope, is entered in RSS Racing’s No. 38 Chevrolet. It would be her second start of the year.

Bobby Earnhardt, son of Kerry Earnhardt and grandson of Dale Earnhardt, is entered in MBM Motorsports’ No. 66 Dodge. It would be his first start of the season.

There is no driver attached to J.P. Motorsports’ No. 55 Toyota.

Last year, Christopher Bell won his first career Xfinity race after passing Erik Jones with four laps to go.

Click here for the entry list.

Bump & Run: Which drivers will not advance to Round of 8?

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Brad Keslowski, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman enter Kansas outside the transfer spot to the next round. Who are the four drivers you think will not advance this weekend at Kansas Speedway?

Nate Ryan: Probably these four. Blaney and Keselowski could advance on points but will need to run well and get some major help from those above the cut line. Larson and Bowman will advance only by winning, and the odds of that are only realistic for Larson.

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski. Kyle Larson was strong at Kansas in May and should provide a valiant run but he’s in essentially a must-win situation and it will be hard to beat Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. at that track.

Daniel McFadin: Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson.

Dan Beaver: Blaney, Larson and Bowman effectively need a win to advance and they have not shown enough consistent strength on the 1.5-mile tracks to get that done at Kansas. Keselowski and Truex have – and after two frustrating weeks, they will do enough to get into the next round. That leaves Clint Bowyer as the odd man out. Kansas may be his home track, but it has not been particularly welcoming since 2013.

After nearly winning at Dover and then winning at Talladega, how do you rate Aric Almirola’s championship chances?

Nate Ryan: Still fair to middling. He will likely run well at Texas and possibly Phoenix but Martinsville (three top 10s in 19 starts) will be a challenge.

Dustin Long: Better than it was two weeks ago but still not among the favorites.

Daniel McFadin: 65 percent. Phoenix and Kansas are among his top nine tracks in average finishes, but he’s finished in the top 10 at Texas once and Homestead twice (in 2010 and 2012). Almirola hasn’t finished in the top 10 at Martinsville since 2014.

Dan Beaver: Almirola has not been able to sustain momentum for very long in 2018. Unless he wins at Kansas, he’ll enter Round 3 with less than 10 bonus points and that is going to make it difficult for him to advance. Almirola’s odds of winning a championship are low.

Do you rate Aric Almirola’s title chances better than any of the Big 3 drivers? Why or why not?

Nate Ryan: No. It still seems better than 50-50 odds that Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. all advance to the championship round, partly because of their playoff points cushion but also because the five remaining tracks (three 1.5-mile ovals) lay out well for the trio.

Dustin Long: Still a gap between the Big 3 and the rest of the playoff field.

Daniel McFadin: Less. Kevin Harvick is the biggest threat at Phoenix and he hasn’t finished outside the top 10 there in the last 10 years. And with 1.5-mile tracks in the form of Texas, Kansas and Homestead, you have to believe the Big 3 are the favorites regardless of how well Almirola is doing.

Dan Beaver: Almirola had a couple of strong runs at Homestead with Richard Petty Motorsports including a fourth in 2010. He has only three top-fives this year – none of which came on 1.5-mile tracks. He won’t be able to outrun Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch in the finale.

What did you think of the Talladega race?

Nate Ryan: It was unlike anything at that 2.66-mile oval in nearly a half-century – look no further than the 15 lead changes being the fewest since 1973. Based off fan and driver reaction, NASCAR assuredly will take steps to improve the stability of the cars for a return to pack racing and nonstop drafting in 2019.

Dustin Long: An unusual race because of rule changes this season that made the cars so hard to drive. At the end it was still the same Talladega — chaos.

Daniel McFadin: It was by far the most fascinating Talladega race in recent memory, despite the fewest lead changes in a Cup race there since 1973. Seeing the Stewart-Haas Racing cars pull ahead of the field by at least a dozen car lengths at times was an echo of plate races there when Y2K was a threat. I’m completely game for a superspeedway race where the field isn’t one giant blob that’s only broken up by large crashes.

Dan Beaver: I’ve learned to never be surprised by anything that happens at Talladega. The four-car domination by the Stewart-Haas drivers was interesting, but it wasn’t very entertaining to watch. 

NASCAR America: Only one playoff win for the Big 3

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The Big 3 of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. combined to win 17 of the first 23 races this season.

Since then, they have one victory in the last eight.

Busch has the only playoff win among the Big 3. He led the field to the checkers at Richmond, but that is not representative of his recent results. During Round 2 of the playoffs, he has recorded an average running position of just 11.95. Martin Truex Jr. has been worse in that regard with an average running position of 16.70.

“Those numbers are not as eye-popping as we saw from this trio earlier in the season,” Nate Ryan said on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America. “Especially I look at Kyle Busch. … This is a guy who had one good race – the race he won at Richmond – through the first half of the playoffs.”

Busch and Harvick still have a substantial advantage in playoff points to ease their path to Homestead. Busch has 55 playoff points; Harvick has 53. But Truex was made painfully aware last week that his 38 playoff points are not a sufficient safeguard. He spent much of the Talladega race below the cutoff line in terms of points-as-they-ran.

Equally disturbing for the Big 3 may be that parity has returned to the series.

The five playoff races have been won by five different drivers – all of whom are in championship contention. Brad Keselowski won at Las Vegas, Busch has his Richmond win as a highlight, Ryan Blaney won on the Charlotte Roval, Chase Elliott won at Dover and Aric Almirola won last week at Talladega.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Kyle Busch, Martin Truex struggle at Dega while Aric Almirola shines

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Today’s NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with Carolyn Manno and Nate Ryan from Stamford. Dale Jarrett will join from Charlotte with a look back at all the action for last week’s playoff race at Talladega.

  • We’ll recap Sunday’s race at Talladega that saw Aric Almirola end his 149-race winless streak and advance to the Round of 8. What does his victory mean for Almirola’s championship hopes going forward?
  • Plus, we’ll examine the run of dominance of Stewart-Haas Racing in the Round of 12. Can all 4 of the team’s drivers find their way to Miami to battle for a championship?
  • We’ll discuss the recent struggles of Cup Series champions Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. How does their performance of late bode for their chances to make it to Miami?
  • Kyle Larson had a lot to say following Sunday’s race and it wasn’t positive. Facing elimination, how will Larson approach Kansas this weekend? Dave Burns reports from the Chip Ganassi Shop on the state of the 42 team.
  • Plus, we begin our celebration of NASCAR America’s upcoming 1,000th episode (Friday, 6 ET) with highlights from our vault.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.