Frustration for Harvick, Almirola at Monster Mile

Kevin Harvick waves to the crowd. Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder

DOVER — As Chase Elliott celebrated in Victory Lane at Dover International Speedway, other drivers stewed on pit road.

Two different Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers looked like they were locks to take home the checkered flag of the Gander Outdoors 400 on Sunday, but they were left to rue missed chances.

Kevin Harvick had the dominant car and led a race-high 286 laps. His day was ruined with problems on a final pit stop.

Once Harvick was out of contention, it was Aric Almirola’s race to lose. Almirola led 64 laps and was out front until a late series of cautions and different pit strategies took him out of contention.

It was the second time this season Almirola lost a race because of a late caution. The same scenario occurred earlier at New Hampshire.

Almirola has now gone 149 races since his last victory, July 6, 2014 at Daytona.

“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,” Almirola said. “I don’t know. I’m frustrated and mad and angry. I don’t know.”

“I want to be there,” Almirola said. “I want to be in Victory Lane. I feel like we’ve got a car capable of doing that.”

Almirola ended up in 13th. He elected to pit under caution with seven laps to go while Elliott stayed out.

Almirola then got caught up in a wreck as cars on various strategies of no tires, two tires and four tires competed for the lead. He collided with Brad Keselowski on the back straightaway which set the stage for a green-white-checkered finish.

Harvick meanwhile was able to make it through the last wreck. He brought his car home in sixth place.

“We were just lucky there,” Harvick said. “We wound up dodging and weaving and being in the right place, so maybe that makes up for the bad luck on losing the race with an absolute dominant car.”

Harvick said his problems on pit road were caused by a lugnut that was knocked off.

Despite not winning, Harvick still leads the point standings. That comes as little consolation to a driver who looked like the likely winner.

“I really don’t care about points,” Harvick said. “I’d rather win.”

But all that trouble was good news for Elliott who spent most of the day racing around 10th place before staying out on the final pit stops under caution.

“There was a point in the race where if you polled the people in the stands on who would win we wouldn’t have been in it,” said winning crew chief Alan Gustafson. “But we crawled back.”

The wild ending was a stark contrast to how most of the race unfolded.

There were zero cautions in the first two stages — both of which were won by Harvick. The first caution did not come out until lap No. 340 of 400 for debris.

Two more cautions followed in the final 10 laps.

But that’s the way things have gone so far four races into NASCAR’s playoffs.

“They’ve been getting crazy at the end that’s for sure,” said third-place finisher Joey Logano. “It seems like everything is controlled, everyone is doing good then there’s something that brings out a late caution. Everyone sees that checkered flag and they know what it means and they want to get themselves to the next round.”

“That’s the way these races go,” he added. “I can promise you Talladega will be the same way. It will be a grudge match to the finish whether there is a caution or not.”

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