|SHR started up front...|
Stewart-Haas Racing took teamwork to a new level Sunday, dominating the 1000Bulbs.com 500 from start to finish.
SHR drivers Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola swept the top four spots in qualifying Saturday, and only an ill-timed, late-race caution prevented them from finishing in the exact same order in Sunday’s race.
The Ford teammates implemented their organizational marching orders to perfection, slipping into single-file formation at the drop of the green flag and working together in a similar fashion on restarts to claim the top four finishing positions in the each of the race’s first two stages. Steadfastly refusing to budge off the advantageous inside line and resisting the urge to race each other for position, Busch, Bowyer, Harvick and Almirola were able to pull away from their less-organized competition, dominating the way few ever have in NASCAR’s notoriously tumultuous restrictor plate era.
Not since Hendrick Motorsports posted a 1-2-3 finish in the 1997 Daytona 500 with drivers Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven has an organization so dominated a race on one of NASCAR’s largest tracks.
|...and finished up front at Talladega.|
Stewart Haas was poised to sweep the first four finishing positions Sunday, holding a comfortable lead over the remainder of the field until Alex Bowman walloped the Turn 4 wall and brought out the caution flag with just three laps remaining, sending the race into overtime. Already pushing the envelope on fuel (as was virtually the entire pack), SHR’s master plan suddenly turned sour. All those laps at the front of the field left the Stewart Haas contingent shorter on fuel than the competition. Harvick was forced to pit road by fluctuating fuel pressure under caution, only to have Busch sputter dry while leading on the final lap. That handed the win to Almirola, with Bowyer finishing second; both of them virtually on fumes.
“I’m really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing,” said a disappointed Harvick afterward. “(My car) sputtered on fuel pressure and dropped down in the red. (We) did the right thing coming in and pitting and not taking a chance. Sometimes it doesn’t all go as planned.”
SHR’s competition director Greg Zipadelli told reporters that he preached cooperation in the days leading up to the race, after disappointing results the previous week at Dover.
|Almirola advances to the Round of 8.|
“Last week, we didn’t do a great job of executing as a group,” admitted Zipadelli. “We could have had the same result. (This week), everybody said, ‘We need to help each other, work together and show everybody that we are teammates.’ I felt like our cars were strong enough that if we did that, we would have a very strong day.
“Honestly, we pay these guys every week to be selfish, take care of themselves, run as hard as they can, finish as high as they can (and) win as many races as they can,” he added. “But everybody gave and took today. We came in here with (Almirola and Bowyer) needing stage and everybody executed perfectly. At the end of the race, (it was) ‘Let’s do everything we can to help each other.’
“Everybody knew the circumstances.”
Almirola’s second career MENCS victory locked him into the playoff Round of Eight with one race still remaining this weekend at Kansas Speedway. Harvick is virtually assured of advancing as well, hovering 63 points above the cutoff line. Kurt Busch is 30 points to the good, with Bowyer now 21 above the cutoff.
“We’re good to the next round points-wise,” said Harvick afterward. “That was really our goal coming into today; to try to do everything we could to put ourselves in a position to go to Kansas and just race. That’s great for the team, to give the guys a mental break in this part of the season (and) just go to Kansas and be able to race the car and not have to worry about points.
“We did a great job today and wound up in a good position for Kansas. It’s all about survive and advance at this point.”