NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola each say the crew chief swaps are ways to make their teams better after each failed to win a race this past season.
While both Bowyer and Almirola made the playoffs, neither was a factor. Almirola was eliminated in the first round. Bowyer failed to advance beyond the second round. Bowyer finished ninth in points. Almirola was 14th.
“We don’t want to be satisfied with just making the playoffs,” Almirola said Wednesday, a day before the NASCAR Awards Show (8 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN). “You want to make a run in the playoffs like we did last year and win races. Unfortunately we didn’t do that.”
Mike Bugarewicz will be paired with Almirola after spending the past three seasons with Bowyer. Johnny Klausmeier will be paired with Bowyer after spending the past two seasons with Almirola.
Stewart-Haas Racing has struggled to have its three other cars match the consistent success of Kevin Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers. Harvick won the 2014 title in his first season at SHR. This year marked the fifth time he’s made it to the championship race in Miami in the six years of the format. No other SHR team has made it to the championship Cup race. Harvick’s team also was the only SHR car to win a race in 2019, scoring four victories.
“You look at teams like Kevin and Rodney and the success they’ve had,” Bowyer said. “They click. All the successful pairings are that way. Obviously this is an effort to try to find a little bit more of that fit factor. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a good fit thing for all of us. Definitely excited about what’s to come and getting things started with Johnny.”
Bowyer said he and Bugarewicz didn’t fit as well because they were too much alike.
“I really enjoyed Mike and all the guys on that team,” said Bowyer, who won two races with Bugarewicz in 2018. “Sometimes we’re too much the same. When I get fired up, he gets fired up and then we butt heads. You need a little bit of the opposites attract thing like a marriage.”
Hendrick Motorsports — Team went 1-2 for the second time this season with Chase Elliott winning Sunday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval and Alex Bowman placing second. All four of its cars finished in the top 10. Also, Hendrick had all three of its cars advance to the second round of the playoffs. Not bad after it came into the weekend with one driver below the cutoff line and another driver holding that final transfer spot.
Clint Bowyer — Raced into a playoff spot with a fourth-place finish that included a pair of third-place results in the first two stages worth an additional 16 points. Entered the race 14th, two spots out of a cutoff spot and safely made it to the second round.
Michael McDowell — The Front Row Motorsports driver passed a kidney stone Friday and then went on to finish 12th Sunday, his best result since placing fifth in the Daytona 500.
Fans — The Roval again provided chaos with 10 cautions, multiple twists and turns for the final transfer spot to the second round and a brouhaha between Bubba Wallace and Alex Bowman during and after the race.
Mario Andretti — How cool was it to see one of the greatest drivers in racing history pace a NASCAR field?
Erik Jones — A mechanical failure, a disqualification and a DNF from an accident constituted his first round of the playoffs. The result is that for the second year in a row the Joe Gibbs Racing driver fails to advance to the second round. JGR’s other three drivers – Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin — all advanced to the next round.
Bubba Wallace — Not a good look in splashing liquid on a competitor who was being treated by a medic after the race and also spraying that person.
Johnny Klausmeier — Crew chief for Aric Almirola had his pit strategy backfire and it played a role in the team failing to advance in the playoffs. Klausmeier didn’t pit Almirola under caution on Lap 90 while many others did. Almirola struggled on the restart and lost the advantage he had. He pitted for tires on a caution at Lap 94 but was far back in the field and couldn’t gain enough ground, placing 14th and finishing five points out of the final playoff spot.
Ryan Newman — The Roush Fenway Racing team expected the Roval to be challenging since they had struggled on road courses this year but this was worse than expected. Newman fought the car throughout the race. He also stalled it on pit road and then missed a chicane in the final laps that assured that Newman would not advance in the second round of the playoffs. He entered the cutoff race 14 points ahead of the first driver outside a transfer spot. Newman ended the day 16 points out of the final transfer spot.
CONCORD, N.C. — A year after late-race dramatics sent Aric Almirola to the second round of the playoffs, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver experienced the opposite side of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval elimination race.
Almirola placed 14th in Sunday’s race and missed the cutoff spot by five points.
Almirola’s departure from the postseason can be traced back to Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s spin on Lap 89. Almirola’s crew chief, Johnny Klausmeier, made the decision not to pit.
“We were basically set up for a one stop race and we elected when the yellow came out there for the 17, we were going to be seventh on the inside so we stayed out,” Klausmeier told NBC Sports. “Some guys pitted from 10th on back and simple enough we went from seventh to 13th on the restart. The car didn’t fire off on the tires as good and then you’re in the clutches of guys with fresher tires and you just have to put tires on and get back on an even playing field.”
But it never worked out for Almirola.
Over the last 17 laps and three more restarts, Almirola struggled to make up ground as his rival to make the second round, Alex Bowman, charged to an eventual second-place finish and Almirola battled Ryan Newman.
“We just didn’t have enough laps left to make any headway with,” Klausmeier said.
Almirola will now try race for points and wins over the last seven races of the season. He has yet to win this year.
“It stinks for sure,” Almirola told NBCSN. “The sun’s going to come out tomorrow and I’m still going to be Aric Almirola and they’re not going to take my birthday (March 14) away. But it’s going to sting. Last year we came out on the good side leaving the Roval and went on to have a great rest of the playoffs and finished fifth in points. I’m still really proud of this race team.”
CREW CHIEF: Johnny Klausmeier
TEAM: Stewart-Haas Racing
POINTS: Fifth (Previous best 16th in 2014)
WINS: One (Talladega II; second career victory and first since 2014)
LAPS LED: 181 (Career-best; previous best 78 in 2012)
TOP 5s: Four (Career-best; previous best three in 2015 and 2017)
TOP 10s: 17 (Career best; previous best seven in 2014)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Began season with top 15s in 14 of the first 16 races … Came within two corners of winning the Daytona 500 before getting spun out of the lead by Austin Dillon … Was never worse than 14th in the points standings during the regular season.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Entered the playoffs with only one bonus point based on a stage win at Chicagoland; added five bonus points with his Talladega win, but still trailed the eventual Championship 4 by nine or more points … Sustained crash damage in back-to-back races at the Charlotte Roval and Dover in the fall … Led 70 laps at Chicagoland before losing a lap late in the race to finish 25th … Led 42 laps at New Hampshire but failed to win and finished third.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2019: Second year with Stewart-Haas will allow Almirola to develop more chemistry with the organization. All four of his top fives came in the second half of the season and he should be able to carry that momentum forward.
Much of the attention at Miami last weekend was focused on the Championship 4 as Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch battled for the Cup title.
There were points races throughout the field, however, and on Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America Parker Kligerman and Dale Jarrett highlighted several drivers who made up the “best of the rest”.
“For (Chase Elliott) it goes back to the fact of it was always about getting that first win,” Kligerman said. “Once he could mentally – and the team could mentally – convince themselves they could win, the floodgates would open and that’s what we saw.”
Aric Almirola had the same average finish (8.6) as Logano during the playoffs and that contributed to his fifth-place position in the points.
“If you look at the first half of the season compared to what they did in the playoffs, it’s astonishing,” Kligerman said. “And Johnny Klausmeier, his crew chief, told me once we start going back to these tracks the second time and as young team really figuring out what we needed, we started to click.”
Erik Jones, Ryan Newman and AJ Allmendinger were also mentioned as notable drivers at various points during the season.
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