Almirola wins at Talladega further burying the championship hopes for Larson, Bowman


But the team understood how dominant it had been all day and fortunate it was to leave Talladega with one driver locked into the next round of the playoffs and the other three still in contention. The Big One at Talladega Superspeedway in the NASCAR Playoffs? The 12 drivers still in the hunt for the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series championship will be hoping to avoid it in the 500, because it could spell their doom if they don't.

Busch faded to 14th and Harvick wound up 28th - a disappointing end because SHR was poised for a 1-2-3-4 finish before the race went to overtime. That could mean hanging it all out in true "checkers or wreckers" fashion. It's not hard to get lined up and into a single file group to put some space between you and the pack. Then Busch ran out of gas headed to the checkered flag and Almirola zipped by for his first victory of the season, first since joining SHR this year as the replacement for Danica Patrick, and first since the rain-shortened Daytona race in July 2014.

"I'm really happy a Stewart-Haas vehicle won".

Truex Jr. now sits 18 points ahead of the round of 8 cut line, meaning that Harvick leads him by 45 points. The only lap he wasn't credited with leading was during a pit stop under caution. Ironically, the Stewart-Hass team claimed the top four spots during qualifying, with Kevin Harvick claiming 3rd and Aric Almirola in 4th.

10th #12 Ryan Blaney 3061 points -22 below the cutoff, has one stage win. Aric Almirola drove around him on the outside and took the lead with just a few hundred feet to go. The seven-time champ managed to miss everyone else, but he slid through the grass and ended up making contact with the inside wall.

Kurt Busch coasted across the finish line. They wrecked in front of us, and we barely made it through.

Just when it appeared the stage would end with no drama of any sort, Larson blew a tire and went around with less than seven to go.

"You don't want to conserve too much and draw the gap of our cars back to the other guys".

That left it up to Almirola, and he came through.

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With pit strategies shuffling the front spots a bit, Brad Keselowski got to control the restart. "Why an extra yellow-flag lap there at the end is beyond me".

William Byron, with some help from Daniel Suarez, finally did something for the first time all afternoon: Making a pass to the outside of the leader. Busch fought off a charge from Almirola on the first portion of the white flag lap. What an impressive run by Stewart-Haas Racing.

Considering this is Talladega we're talking about, the race was unlikely to stay green the rest of the way, and it did not.

But the dynamics changed when Alex Bowman spun with three laps remaining to bring out an ill-timed caution.

Bowyer finished second, congratulated his teammate and praised the SHR cooperation. Their cars were sputtering already, they had no chance to make it.

The bottom line? Every round of 12 driver except for Elliott and Almirola will need to be on their A-game in the Hollywood Casino 400 to advance to the round of 8; no exceptions.

"There was two cars dead in the water down there, Chase Elliott's safety is of my concern, so is the #32 vehicle [of Matt DiBenedetto]".

Kurt Busch is on the pole and followed by Ford teammates Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola.