LOUDON, N.H. — With darkness closing in at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Aric Almirola sprung to life late in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race and pulled off a surprise victory, the first win of the year for Stewart-Haas Racing.
"There is no doubt we have struggled," Almirola said. "But guess what? We're going playoff racing."
The victory was a needed boost for Ford and played havoc with the playoff field with only four races left before the 16-driver field is set. The race was delayed nearly two hours by rain, and NASCAR called it early due to lack of light, leaving it eight laps shy of a scheduled 301, which would have covered 318.46 miles.
Almirola, who entered 27th in the points standings, raced to the third win of his Cup Series career but first since 2018. He had only two top-10 finishes this season until Sunday.
"There have been so many people that have supported us through the crappiest year ever," the 37-year-old driver said. "Man, this feels so good for them."
He broke up the Team Penske party — Brad Keselowksi and Ryan Blaney waged a fun back-and-forth battle for the lead at one point — and Christopher Bell could not catch him in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota. Bell won the Xfinty Series race Saturday and was second on the top circuit Sunday, when Keselowski, Joey Logano and Blaney made it a 3-4-5 finish for Team Penske's Fords. SHR's Kevin Harvick was sixth.
Almirola rested his head on the SHR No. 10 Mustang in almost stunned disbelief that he clinched a playoff spot.
"I love this race track," he said. "I had this race won a couple of years ago, and I lost it. We've been through so much, and I just stood the test."
Almirola snapped a 98-race winless streak and added New Hampshire to a rain-shortened win at Daytona International Speedway in 2014 and Talladega Superspeedway in 2018 for his third win in 374 career races.
NASCAR started the race under wet conditions, and that decision turned into a disaster when Kyle Busch, who started in pole position, spun on the slick track and wrecked only six laps into the race. Two of his JGR teammates, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin, also spun, and the red flag was waved to stop the race. Truex and Hamlin returned, but Busch's day in the No. 18 Toyota was over.
"It never should have gone green to begin with, but then it kept getting worse and worse lap over lap," Busch said. "We've been talking about it for two laps that it was raining. There's no sense in saying what I want to say — it doesn't do you any good."
Hamlin said "this is just a bad look."
NASCAR executive vice president Steve O'Donnell said on NBC Sports that races have started in the mist but the track "got slick in a hurry."
With NBC about to be busy with coverage of the Tokyo Olympics, NASCAR will take a rare two-week break and won't return until Aug. 8 at Watkins Glen, the New York road course that was bumped from the schedule last season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hamilton wins at home
SILVERSTONE, England — Lewis Hamilton roared back from a first-lap incident that sent Formula One season points leader Max Verstappen to the hospital, overcoming a 10-second penalty to win the British Grand Prix and reignite his bid for a record-breaking eighth series title.
Hamilton won at his home track to snap a run of five races without a victory. He had dropped from second to fifth at Silverstone after he served his penalty, but he picked up two spots when he returned to the track, and then Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was ordered to move out of Hamilton's way.
That gave him 11 laps to chase down leader Charles Leclerc in a Ferrari, and Hamilton made the pass for the win with just two laps to go — and on the same corner where he had tangled with Verstappen. The 36-year-old British driver was cheered on to his eighth career victory at Silverstone by passionate home fans — 140,000 people packed the stands — who gave him a standing ovation.
Hamilton cut his deficit against Verstappen from 33 points to seven, and their rivalry seemed to take on a different hue with Sunday's developments. Verstappen crashed out of the race when a spirited battle with Hamilton on the first lap — their cars made contact at least twice — sent the 23-year-old Dutchman spinning hard into a barrier.
The red flag was waved to allow for repairs to the tire barrier. Verstappen was wobbly as he climbed from his car, and he was transported to a local hospital for evaluation but left the facility later Sunday "without any major injuries," his Red Bull team said.
While there, though, he took to Twitter to express his frustration with Hamilton, calling his rival's celebration with him still in the hospital "disrespectful and unsportsmanlike" and also writing: "Glad I'm ok. Very disappointed with being taken out like this. The penalty given does not help us and doesn't do justice to the dangerous move Lewis made on track."