Johnny Klausmeier

Charlotte Roval winners and losers

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WINNERS

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?

LOSERS

Erik JonesA 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. 

Aric Almirola out of playoffs after pit strategy fails

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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.”

2018 Cup Season in Review: Aric Almirola

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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Kurt Busch

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)

POLES: None

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.

NASCAR America: Aric Almirola, Chase Elliott are among the ‘best of the rest’

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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.

For more, watch the video above.

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What drivers said after Cup playoff race at Phoenix

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Kyle Busch — Winner: “I’d like to think it gives us a lot (of momentum), but I don’t know – talk is cheap. We’ve got to be able to go out there and perform and just do what we need to do. Being able to do what we did here today was certainly beneficial. I didn’t think we were the best car, but we survived and we did what we needed to do today. It’s just about getting to next week and once we were locked in, it was ‘all bets are off and it’s time to go.’ … It’s awesome to celebrate like this and we were the first ones in the Richmond victory lane and we’re the first ones in the Phoenix victory lane and I called my shot a few months ago because they had the 48 on the map showing everyone where things are at and I said, ‘That ain’t right, that’s going to be us.’ I’m glad I could be a man of my word.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 2nd: “We definitely made the right call. It just didn’t quite work out. Man, it was close. I needed to pass (Aric Almirola) like a lap earlier and we were all racing for all we’ve got. It was close.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 4th: “I thought we were a seventh to sixth-place car and that’s what I thought we were yesterday too. (Crew chief) Johnny (Klausmeier) and all these guys fought their guts out and I fought my guts out inside the race car and gave it everything we had. We took a seventh or eighth-place car and the next thing you know we were in position to win the race. I’m just really thankful for this group and these guys on the Smithfield team are awesome. This is our first year working together. You look at all the teams we’re racing and they’ve got four, five, six, seven years working together, so what we’ve accomplished in one year is a hell of a lot, but right now all I can think about is being inside of Kyle down there in the new one and two and just not being able to get the power down to get up beside him. It’s bittersweet. It was a good day for us, but today we needed to win and we didn’t win.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “I felt (the tire) start to go down going into Turn 1 there and just slowed down to the point where I thought I could at least make it back to the pits and not hit the wall. It came at an OK time because it didn’t tear the car up. It never really drove as well after that, but we kept ourselves in position all day and there at the end it was just like with everybody wrecking and all over the place, we just needed to stay out of trouble and try to find a safe spot there.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 8th: “Yeah for sure, I’m proud of our American Ethanol E15 car and our team. It was a solid run all weekend. We had a top 10 car. That is what we had. We proved that. It kind of bit us, we pitted and the caution came out and that was… we had to really fight to get back that, but luckily the wrecks happened. It put us back in a pretty good position. We decided to stay out on old tires and fight them off to the end. That was a fun run for our team and our Camaro. We will work on that. That is two top 10’s in a row and I’m happy.”

William Byron — Finished 9th: “we haven’t had very good runs, to be honest, the whole year, but this run we kind of went a completely different direction with what we were doing and it seemed to pay off, and just kind of had a solid weekend other than qualifying. Got some damage there, but we were able to come back, I guess, and finish ninth, so I guess that’s decent, and going to Homestead next week.”

Bubba Wallace — Finished 10th: “We were up there and we had underdog speed in the top 15 three quarters through the race and I didn’t like having all those cautions. I did because it would give us a chance to fire back off, but once we got leveled out those guys could just drive right by us. We are still working on our speed. We are still making the most of it. It was nice to be able to survive, catch a couple of breaks, catch a lot of breaks actually. Just have luck on our side for once. It was great to have the Air Force on our car for Veteran’s Day and our Chevrolet was actually decent this time.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 12th: That was a really solid day for our Kroger ClickList team. We’ve been searching for some speed at ISM Raceway the last several years, and to be able to gain spots on pit road and track position was a huge advantage for us. That was probably the best Kroger ClickList car I’ve had here. I’m really proud of the whole team for being able to get us some solid finishes the last few weeks, and I’m looking forward to finishing out the season strong next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 13th: “We had an opportunity there and I think the (Erik Jones) got together there and going into the corner I got underneath and it looked like I got loose, I thought I got hit, but nobody was near me. I got loose and I chased it up the race track and (Kurt Busch) was right there. Then it looked like he hit the wall and I was up there and kind of pinched him and then hit the wall again. It was not going to be good. He kind of turned us then, but I can’t blame him, Kurt’s been fair to me in so many years of racing. I’ve never had one incident with him, he’s been as fair to me as anyone out there and I hate it for him because trust me, I was rooting for him – all of today I was rooting for (Busch) to be the guy that got in there. Ultimately we have to go out there to try to race to win and we were battling hard off the corner. Just ran out of real estate for sure.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 14th: “We didn’t have the greatest car, but we battled hard and we had a little bit of good fortune. Made good calls, good strategy and good adjustments on the car. We got it to where it was pretty decent. The short runs just really killed us today. It would take 40 or 50 laps for the car to come in and then a caution would come out. All in all, I’m just really proud of everybody, everybody back in Denver at the shop for continuing to bring good race cars and stay focused.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 16th: “It’s definitely probably the best run I’ve had here and I’m really proud of the guys. I made mistakes on pit road instead. It’s kind of a trick pit road now with curves and straights and I was just pushing it too hard. We were able to rebound. I wish we could have got that lucky dog a little bit sooner, but (Matt Kenseth) and I were racing hard for it and it was just a tough battle there. I’m glad to get a top 20 and get some momentum back going to Homestead.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 19th: “What a crazy day of highs and lows for our GEICO Military team. My Camaro ZL1 had a great balance through the start and middle of the race, I just needed a bit more drive through the corners. Then the battery problem hit us, and we had to switch out batteries during a caution. That could have potentially ended our day, but thankfully the voltage maintained instead of dropping. My balance wasn’t exactly where I needed it in the final stage of the race, but my team kept tweaking it to get it closer. Everyone’s hard work today earned us a top-20 finish. We came to Phoenix wanting to make the most of what we have left of the season, and I’d say that we capitalized on everything we had today.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 30th: “We had an uncontrolled tire early. I don’t know, I guess the computer told them it was an uncontrolled tire. It didn’t look uncontrolled to me, but the computer is probably a whole lot smarter than me. We kind of got off pit strategy trying to come back from that. We were going to be able to overcome it and have a decent day. It was just kind of odd. Some odd things going on and then they crashed in front of us and knocked the duct work out of it. Hendrick Motorsports builds great engines, this wasn’t an engine failure because of them, this was an engine failure because it had no duct work and it ran 350 degrees for 20 laps and it can only do that for so long.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 23rd: “Was speeding on pit road and ultimately that is what got us behind. You can’t come down pit road leading the race and speed and expect to race for a championship the next week. Just unfortunate and especially that late in the race. So, that was just my fault and really no excuse for it. So, we will try again next year.

Kurt Busch — Finished 32nd: Erik Jones was on my inside when we restarted and I just wanted to make sure I didn’t slip through the new (Turn) 1 and 2. If I could have been to somebody’s outside off two, then I thought we had a good shot of maintaining the lead and I just got cleaned out. I flat out got cleaned out. I thought it was the right decision on staying out. I’m not gonna look back on it. If the rule earlier in the race on the pit road of passing the pace car is black and white, I just need to get brushed up on my rulebook. I didn’t gain anything by doing what I did other than just digging from behind all day. It was a really good year for our Haas Automation Ford. Thanks to Monster Energy and everybody that put their talent into that 41 car. I just didn’t get the job done to get us to Homestead.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 33rd: “It looked like we just blew a tire there.  We were actually getting our Ford Fusion better and better throughout the race.  We had a great qualifying spot, but obviously didn’t feel like we were capable of running there, but we were definitely getting our car better and better.  I felt pretty competitive that last run and bummed that it ended that way.  I thought we were moving forward and passing some good cars, but, all in all, it just wasn’t meant to be today and we’ll go on to Homestead.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 34th: “I thought we were pretty good. We definitely made big gains here. We were running top five all day. They noticed some water in the pit box on that last stop and I had no water pressure. We took off on the restart and it was blowing up. We found that a lugnut went through the radiator, so it’s just pure luck. We finally have a decent run here and that happens. The good news is we made good gains here, so that’s something to look forward to.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 35th: “I guess we cut a left-rear tire down. I don’t know if it’s a product of being able to get down on the back straightaway off the race track like that. At the end of the day it’s pretty unique. We travel all across the country running on race tracks that we race on the race track and this one we spend more time off of it. It’s fun to be able to do that, but I don’t know. After I saw (Joey Logano) and then felt my left-rear go, maybe that was a product of that. We’ve run low air on these short tracks like this on our left sides and maybe that was it. It’s just kind of the way our Playoffs are going. It’s frustrating. We’ve had a great year getting to where we were part of this Playoff situation and being in contention to be able to run for a championship. There’s a lot of pride with (crew chief) Mike (Bugarewicz) and all the guys on the 14 car. It’s been a lot of fun to go to battle each and every week all across the country with these guys. Stewart-Haas, I can’t say enough about the job the men and women have done at Stewart Haas getting all four cars in the playoffs and then obviously winning and being in victory lane, and everything Ford and everybody involved has done for us. I’m proud of our season, bummed for our day. It’s always fun to come out here to Phoenix. It’s a hell of a crowd today, appreciate everybody coming out. Unfortunately, we were a caution. You never want to be a caution.”

Joey Logano — Finished 37th: “The left-rear tire went flat. I don’t really know why. It just kind of came out of nowhere. We may have run something over, I don’t know. I went down on the flat a couple laps earlier to make a pass and I don’t know if it hit a little bit hard, maybe it knocked the fender into it, who knows what happened there, but she just went out. I tried to save it. I thought I had it saved, but by the time I got it straightened back out the rest of the tires were flat because I had them flat-spotted. That’s what it is. We’ll move on. We’re locked into Miami, so it doesn’t really matter, so we’ll keep our heads high.”