After heartbreaking Chase opener, Almirola already in must-win situation


Aric Almirola came into Sunday’s opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup with high hopes of being perhaps the Cinderella of the playoffs, someone who would fly under the radar all the way to the final four season-ending battle at Homestead.

Almirola got off to a great start, running as high as sixth in Sunday’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

But 36 laps from the end of the 267-lap event, the stout Roush-Yates motor in Almirola’s Ford gave up – and so went his hopes of starting the Chase off on the right foot.

“The motor just let go,” Almirola said in a Ford Racing media release issued Monday morning. “My hat goes off to (crew chief) Trent Owens and all the guys on the Eckrich team.

Our Fusion was really fast and it just wasn’t meant to be. The motor let go. Doug Yates builds awesome horsepower for us every week and we rarely have any engine issues at all. It happened – but we had a lot of horsepower while it lasted.”

Instead of a potential top-10 showing, Almirola finished a disappointing 41st in the race. And now, with nine races left in the Chase, he finds himself 52 points (the equivalent of more than one full race worth of points) behind Sunday’s winner and points leader Brad Keselowski.

Even worse, if he has another bad race at New Hampshire this Sunday, Almirola will likely find himself on the path to elimination after Dover in two weeks, rather than the road to advancement into the second round of the playoffs.

When asked if he could put what he’s feeling into words, Almirola was brutally honest.

“No, I can’t,” he said. “Heartbroken, I think, is the easiest way to describe it. I am really proud of my guys. We have nothing to hang our heads about. They brought me an awesome race car.

“We drove from 23rd up to the top-10, running sixth with just over 30 to go and it just wasn’t meant to be. We will regroup and go to Loudon and Dover and try to be spectacular.”

What makes things all the more disheartening for Almirola and Richard Petty Motorsports is that they showed they had the speed to compete with the leaders.

Had Almirola’s motor not blown up, he would likely have wound up with a good finish, perhaps even a top-10 to continue his recent streak of good fortune coming into the Chase.

“I knew this team was capable of (running well),” Almirola said. “We were coming off top-10s at Richmond and Atlanta and had momentum on our side. We know what we are capable of. We know we are capable of running in the top-10. Everyone else might not think so.

“The rest of the world thinks we are underdogs and we will gladly accept that tag but what we’ve shown (at Chicago) and the last two weeks is exactly what we are capable of. We don’t have anything to hang our heads about. We will go to Loudon with our heads held high and try to rebound from this.”

Now comes Loudon and Dover.

At the flat one-mile track in New Hampshire, Almirola’s history is not encouraging. While he finished fifth there in the early summer race there last season, overall he’s made eight career starts there, of which six of those finishes have been outside the top-20 and one other outside the top-15.

As for the all-concrete oval at Dover, Almirola has a sixth-place finish and three other top-20 showings in five starts there.

But with the hole he’s in now, it’s going to take a lot more than top-20 or even top-10 finishes to get back into the Chase.

Almirola can’t take any chances. Any hopes of making it through the first three races on mere consistency and top-10 finishes has now morphed into only one plan:

“We have to win, that’s it, there is no other option” said Almirola, who earned his first career Cup victory in July’s rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. “We have to go and figure out how we can win one of the next two races.”

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Supercross 2023: Results and points after Houston


Eli Tomac led all 23 laps of the Monster Energy Supercross race at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas and the results show he now has three wins in the season and is one shy of tying Ricky Carmichael’s 48 for third on the all-time list. With this win, he takes a seven point lead in the standings with 12 rounds remaining.

For Tomac at Houston, it was literally a tale of two races. Both his heat and the main started the same with Tomac grabbing the holeshot, but he was passed quickly by Chase Sexton in the heat. Tomac faded quickly after getting passed and was trailing by almost eight seconds at the checkered flag, which caused him to retreat to the hauler and reassess his lines. Without making any adjustments to the bike, Tomac entered the Main with a new attitude, and simply rode better.

Supercross Results Houston
Chase Sexton played it safe in the sand, but he was aggressive in every other turn. – Feld Motor Sports

Sexton had so great a lead in his heat that one could not even use the cliche that he left Tomac in his dust. By the time the rider with the No. 1 plate crossed the same real estate as the No. 23, the dust was well settled. Sexton had a modest start on the initial gate drop and ended Lap 1 in fourth. He worked his way past Aaron Plessinger on Lap 3 and got around Jason Anderson three laps later. Sexton was able to catch Tomac and pressure him, but he picked a safe, i.e. slow line through the sand section and could never get alongside his rival.

RESULTS: Click here for 450 Results; Click here for full 250 East Main Results

After starting the season with back-to-back seventh-place finishes, Anderson now has a pair of podiums. He won his heat and was easily one of the top three riders in the field, ultimately finishing behind the riders who finished 1-2 in the other preliminary. Anderson was subdued on the podium – happy he was there, but disappointed he has not yet found a way around the riders he is chasing in the points.

In the early stages of the race, Plessinger appeared to have a bike capable of winning. He pressured Tomac on the first two laps and was setting up the pass just as a red flag waved for an injury to Dylan Ferrandis that brought out a red flag. He lost second to Anderson on the restart and eventually slipped to fourth to score his first top-five of the season.

Click here for 450 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

Cooper Webb rounded out the top five. Along with Sexton, he is now one of just two riders with a sweep of that mark in 2023, but with Tomac’s three wins, he is beginning to slip in the points. Webb sits third in the standings, 12 points behind the leader.

Ken Roczen entered the race as the third rider with a sweep of the top five and progressively better results in the first three races of 2023. Had the pattern held, he would have finished at least second, but he struggled for most of the night, finishing fifth in his heat and eighth in the Main. There may have been extenuating circumstances, however. Ferrandis’ injury was suffered when he landed on the back of Roczen’s bike and potentially damaged the No. 94 Suzuki.

Click here for 450 Main results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points | Lap Chart

The 250 East division made their 2023 debut in Houston, but the name atop the board was familiar. Hunter Lawrence joined his brother Jett Lawrence as the early points’ leader in their respective divisions, but it didn’t come without a little anxiety.

Riding behind Supercross newbie Tom Vialle on the second lap, Lawrence was forced to take evasive action when the leader pitched his bike sideways to scrub speed over a jump. Lawrence veered left and landed off course, but he cleared the Tuff Blox and kept his bike straight. Lawrence made the pass for the lead on Lap 18 and never relinquished it.

Click here for 250 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

In his first attempt on a 250, Max Anstie ascended to the podium. – Feld Motor Sports

England’s Max Anstie made the move from 450s to 250s this year after scoring a best result of 11th on the big bike at Anaheim 2 last year. It didn’t take anytime at all to find the front for Anstie, who finished second in both his heat and main.

It has been a while since Jordon Smith stood on the podium: February 23, 2019 to be exact when he finished that well in Detroit. A series of injuries kept him off the bike for much of 2020 and 2021, but he’s proving to be a factor when he’s healthy.

Click here for 250 Main results | 250 East Rider Points | Combined Rider Points | Lap Chart

There was a lot of hype surrounding the debut of Haiden Deegan in the 250 class and he proved it was merited. He finished fourth in his heat and main. He was as far down as ninth at one point in the feature before slowly picking off riders on his way to the front.

Jeremy Martin finished fifth and now has a streak of three consecutive top-fives to his credit stretching back to last year. Unfortunately, his pair of strong runs in 2022 were interrupted by injury.

Making impressive debuts in the 250 division, Vialle recovered from a fall to finish seventh, Chance Hymas finished eighth, and Talon Hawkins just missed the top 10 with an 11th.

2023 Results

Race 3: Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen win
Race 2: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 1: Tomac, Lawrence win

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings

Week 3: Ken Roczen takes the top spot
Week 2: Roczen moves up; Chase Sexton falls
Week 1: Eli Tomac tops 450s; Jett Lawrence 250s