Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch see victory drought continue in New Hampshire

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LOUDON, N.H. -- As their Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick celebrated his victory Sunday at New Hampshire, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch were left wondering what could have been.

Both had cars that could have challenged for the victory until they stumbled, leaving the door open for Harvick to win for the sixth time this year. SHR's Clint Bowyer has two wins. Busch and Almirola? They still seek their first.

Almirola was the leader until a pit stop on Lap 259 put him back to third, and then got a bad restart. All of a sudden, he was outside the top five and had to rally to finish third.

"I thought we were going to Victory Lane today and we didn't," Almirola said. "So that's disappointing. ... I feel like we were a little better than [Harvick] was, but they just executed.

"They beat us off pit road and got a great restart at the end and kept pace with [then-leader] Kyle [Busch]. I didn't get a good enough restart. We've got to put it all together."

Almirola blamed himself for the poor restart.

"Kyle went a lot sooner in the restart zone than I anticipated," Almirola said. "I was trying to roll up to the restart zone, and when he took off, I kind of pushed the throttle down and spun the tires and didn't get a good start."

Harvick said after the race that Almirola probably had the best car.

"I felt like if I would have got a good restart, I would have at least put myself in position to challenge for the win," Almirola said. "I just didn't do it. I spun the tires and lost four spots and had to drive back up to third."

Busch, who led a race-high 94 laps, was running second when he came in for a green-flag pit stop with about 75 laps remaining. He was told that Ryan Blaney, in the stall just before his, would be leaving before he got there.

The only problem was that Blaney was still in his stall. Busch waited a moment, thinking Blaney would be pulling out, before finally driving past Blaney and into his stall. Busch lost about five spots on that pit stop and finished eighth.

"The crew chief is like, 'He'll be gone by the time you get there,'" Busch said. "And I initially thought that, and then they were still hanging left-side tires and I was like, 'Oh no, oh no. He's going to be there.'

"If I would have come around him [quickly], I would have blocked him huge. I would have been at a bad angle and that was just one of those, where we're two guys walking down the hallway and we bumped into each other and had to hold each other up."

Busch also didn't get a good restart late in the race.

"That just kind of pushed us back too far on the final restart, and I didn't get a good last restart," Busch said. "If we could have come off pit road in fourth, it might have been a whole different race."

As the pole sitter, Busch had the best pit stall -- the one the furthest down pit road. Those stalls are so valuable because of the ability to accelerate and not worry about speeding to the final timing lines on pit road, so many top teams take the ones next to the best stall, even if that means sometimes tight quarters in and out.

Busch said that shouldn't matter, that the first pit stall should always be an advantage.

"You just aren't supposed to pit on the same lap they do under green," Busch said. "That was a fundamental mistake."

Both Busch and Almirola have solid cushions (Busch at 221 points, Almirola at 150) on the current cutoff to make the playoffs despite being winless, but they have frustrating losing streaks. Busch is at 55 races since winning the 2017 Daytona 500. Almirola hasn't won in his last 139 starts and has been on the brink of winning races this year in his first season at SHR after several seasons at Richard Petty Motorsports.

"I want to win," Almirola said. "We were playing Go Fish and Candy Land in the bus [during the rain delay], and I don't even like losing at that to my 5-year-old and my 4-year-old. I'm just competitive and I hate to lose.

"For the last six years of my career, losing was normal. For the first time in my career, I've had a lot of opportunities to win this year."