Photo: Justin R. Noe/ASP, Inc.

Heartbreak for Stewart-Haas Racing Duo of Bowyer, Almirola at Dover

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

Both Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola had a shot at the win Sunday at Dover, but by the time the checkered flag flew, the two drivers were left with nothing but heartbreak.

All four Stewart-Haas Racing cars were strong throughout the day, with Kevin Harvick dominating and the remainder right behind him, but when Harvick had to make an extra trip down pit road late in the race, it looked as if Almirola was in the catbird seat to finally be able to break through for his first win this season.

At lap 320, Almirola took over the lead for the first time and held onto the top spot for 67 laps, handily keeping fellow SHR driver Kurt Busch at bay as the laps wound down.

However, things began to unravel when Bowyer, who had been up front with the remainder of his SHR teammates had tire issues, forcing him down pit road under green for a loose right-rear wheel. His team was able to get tires changed and he returned to the track, but minutes later, his car slammed the outside wall in Turn 4, eventually coming to rest on the inside frontstretch wall.

Bowyer would wind up 35th, the worst of the 12 drivers remaining in the playoffs.

“We broke and I hit the wall,” said Bowyer. “I’m just really disappointed.  I’m frustrated with our day, obviously, we had a very fast race car.  I got tore up passing a lapper and then all of a sudden we had a loose wheel, I think it was a loose wheel, and then we went back out and broke something in the front end and it was two different things.

“I’m just sick for Aric.  He had that race won.  It was his win and unfortunately his teammate had trouble and took him out of it.”

As a result of Bowyer’s crash, the caution flag flew with seven laps to go and pit strategy came into play. Almirola and Kurt Busch elected to come down pit road for fresh tires, while others decided to stay out on track.

Though he beat Busch off pit road, Almirola would have to restart on the outside of the third row. Not an insurmountable obstacle, but a tough road nonetheless.

When the race restarted, Almirola put his fresh tires and the outside lane to good use, setting his sights on powering his way back to the lead, but off Turn 2 with two laps to go, he tagged the outside wall and bounced back into traffic, collecting Brad Keselowski and a host of others.

After a visit to pit road for repairs after the red flag was lifted, he was able to finish the race in 13th, but the damage had already been done to both his car and his hopes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

“We’ve had so many opportunities and been so close and had the car to win and been in position and I don’t know, it just seems to not come through,” said Almirola.  “I’m frustrated and mad and angry.  I don’t know.  I could have been conservative and probably finish third or fourth like Kurt, it’s just track position is so tough and it’s so hard to pass here.

“On that restart I tried to at least go where they weren’t to the top and the 11 moved up to kind of block me and I just got really tight off of two and I bounced off the fence and got into Brad and tore up a lot of race cars along the back straightaway.  I hate that for everybody that was involved, but it kind of killed our day too.

“I feel like we should be over there in Victory Lane celebrating, but we’re not.”

Both drivers ended the day 10 points below the cut-off line, with Talladega and Kansas remaining in the second round.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.