Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – KANSAS CITY, KS – Aric Almirola is excited to enjoy a rare moment in NASCAR racing—an elimination event with no downside for the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team.
Entering Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (at 2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Almirola already is locked into the Round of 8 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, thanks to his breakthrough victory last Sunday at Talladega.
With his presence in the final eight assured, Almirola can go all-out to improve his standing by accumulating Playoff points for the next round. Almirola currently has six. The so-called Big 3 of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have 55, 53 and 38 respectively—potentially a huge advantage when it comes to advancing to the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
As a consequence, it behooves Almirola to strive for every point he can get on Sunday. The winners of the first and second stages get one Playoff point each. The race winner scores an additional five. Almirola has the luxury of racing without the fear of elimination, with no thought of a conservative approach.
“There is really no step back for us,” Almirola said on Friday at Kansas Speedway. “If anything, I think it allows us to be less guarded. Coming to Kansas, there is no downside and only opportunity for upside. If we wreck on Lap 1, it doesn’t matter. We are still going to the Round of 8. If we win both stages and win the race, we can have seven more points when the points reset next week.
“So that’s really what we’re looking at. Everybody would love to have that bet in their stock portfolio, right? You can only go up. You can’t go down. That’s what we have. That’s the opportunity we have ahead of us. There’s no downside going into this weekend and only potential for upside.”
ALEX BOWMAN EXPRESSES CONFIDENCE FACING MUST-WIN SCENARIO
Unlike Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, who secured a spot in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Round of 8 with his Oct. 7 victory at Dover, Alex Bowman has only one path to the next round of the Playoffs.
Twelfth in the standings and 68-points behind Martin Truex Jr. in eighth, Bowman has to win Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway to keep his championship hopes alive.
Bowman has never won a race in NASCAR’s premier series, and six weeks ago, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet might have discounted his chances for an 11th-hour victory at Kansas. But the Hendrick cars as a group have shown improved performance of late, and that gives Bowman cause for optimism.
“I think with all the resources we have and the people and the knowledge we have at Hendrick Motorsports, I don’t think anybody is surprised within the organization when a Hendrick car wins,” said Bowman, who was 12th fastest in Friday’s opening practice. “I think we haven’t shown the speed, really, up until probably a month and a half ago, when we went to Vegas and ran really strong.
“I think, up until then, we hadn’t really shown race-winning speed by any means. But over the last month and a half or two months, we’ve improved a lot. And I really don’t think we’d be surprised if we won. It would obviously be great, and the first Cup win would be amazing.”
Bowman also has Kansas City ties that would make a victory on Sunday even more special.
“My dad’s family is from here,” he said, “so that would be pretty cool for them.”
SPENCER GALLAGHER TO STEP AWAY FROM DRIVING AT SEASON’S END
Spencer Gallagher came to the Kansas Speedway media center bearing news—about himself.
“I will no longer be competing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” said Gallagher, whose father, Maury Gallagher, founded GMS Racing. “I will be stepping out of that role as a driver and taking on a more managerial role at GMS.
“As of right now, we are absolutely intent on continuing our Xfinity effort, and we aim to win a championship with the quality of stuff we’ve been able to build and the talented people that surround us there at GMS.
Gallagher, who claimed his only Xfinity victory at Talladega in April, said the team currently is talking to a number of drivers eager to fill the seat of the No. 23 Chevrolet.
“As to the ride, we’re interviewing several capable candidates right now,” Gallagher said. “But I want to let everyone know, as of right now, the seat’s open season. I believe we have excellent stuff, and we’re taking auditions, as of right this second.”
Johnny Sauter won the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title to give GMS its only title in any of the sanctioning body’s top three touring series.
“All of us at GMS Racing wish Spencer the best in his future endeavors,” said GMS president Mike Beam. “We look forward to what the future holds for this organization, and we will continue to work to build our Xfinity Series program into a championship-caliber team like our trucks.”