AVONDALE, Ariz. - The penultimate race at ISM Raceway lived up to its dramatic billing as six drivers battled for two remaining spots in the Championship 4, but in the end two Ford drivers came up just short of advancing.
Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano had competitive Mustangs for most of the day, but didn’t have enough to overtake race-winner Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, who will join Martin Truex Jr. and Ford’s Kevin Harvick in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Logano led 93 laps and won Stage 2, but shortly after the restart to being the final stage the handling on his Mustang went away. Busch passed him for the lead with 125 laps to go and after that Logano fell to 12th-place and went one lap down in 52 laps.
Blaney found himself with a chance when caution came out with nine laps to go while running third. His team opted for two tires, which gained him one spot and put him on the front row with Hamlin for the decisive restart with three laps remaining. Blaney got a good launch, but couldn’t get by Hamlin in the preferred lane and settled for third.
Harvick finished fifth after his win last week at Texas Motor Speedway clinched his spot in the Championship 4. Clint Bowyer finished eighth, Logano ninth and Brad Keselowski 10th as Ford placed five drivers in the top 10.
The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion will be crowned on Sunday in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. and can be seen live on NBC or be heard on MRN and SiriusXM radio.
MENCS RACE TOP-10 FINISHERS
1st - Denny Hamlin (P)
2nd - Kyle Busch (P)
3rd - Ryan Blaney (P)
4th - Kyle Larson (P)
5th - Kevin Harvick (P)
6th - Martin Truex Jr. (P)
7th - Erik Jones
8th - Clint Bowyer
9th - Joey Logano (P)
10th - Brad Keselowski
REMAINING FORD FINISHERS
12th — Paul Menard
15th — Daniel Suarez
18th — Ryan Newman
19th — Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
22nd — Aric Almirola
27th — John Hunter Nemechek
30th — Michael McDowell
35th — Corey LaJoie
36th — David Ragan
UPDATED PLAYOFF STANDINGS
1 - Kyle Busch
2 - Denny Hamlin
3 - Martin Truex Jr.
4 - Kevin Harvick
POST RACE QUOTES
JOEY LOGANO, No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang
WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR CAR IN THAT ONE STRETCH? “I don’t know. I have no idea. It went from a really good car to a car that couldn’t stay on the lead lap with changing tires and a half pound of air. A lot of things don’t line up there. That doesn’t make any sense. The car shouldn’t do that, but it did and once we put tires back on it we got to where we could run competitive at least again, but we were so far back and I was running so hard trying to get back to the 11 that we ended up using it up again. We just needed a caution at the right time and we didn’t get it to try to get back up there. It stinks. We did the first half of the race really well. We had a fast car. We scored a ton of stage points and to the point that we could tie the 18 and all I had to do was finish in front of him, which was the goal, and it went bad from there. I don’t get it, but it just wasn’t our year I guess. I don’t know what to say. You’re up there wishing that somebody gets up there and passes him, but the 18 wasn’t gonna pass him. He could have, but wasn’t going to obviously to have all of their cars in, so it is what it is. We’ll move forward.”
HOW DISAPPOINTING NOT TO GET TO DEFEND YOUR TITLE? “It stinks. I don’t know how disappointing it is, put a number on it. It hurts. It’s not what you fight all year for to fight for fifth now, but we will. That’s what we’ll do next week and we’ll try to maximize our day again and try to end the season on a win.”
WHEN DID YOU REALIZE THERE WAS SOMETHING BAD WITH THE CAR? “It wasn’t five or six laps in that I realized I was quite a bit tighter than what I was and I just was relying on clean air, and then it just got tighter, tighter and tighter. Once you start abusing the right-front tire with a car that’s tight it just drops off in a hurry and got to a point where I couldn’t pass the lapped cars out there because I was one. I noticed it pretty quick, but there’s not much you can do about it when it’s green out there and you have a risk of going down a few laps I guess.”
THIS ISN’T THE FIRST TIME YOU’VE HAD SOMETHING WEIRD MECHANICAL HAPPEN. DOES IT FEEL LIKE IT FINALLY CAUGHT UP TO YOU IN THE PLAYOFFS? “We scratched and clawed and made a race out of it with a lot of adversity throughout these playoffs. We’ve had a pretty ugly run. We’ve had some good cars, but something has happened every single race, so it is what it is. It stinks. I don’t have the answer of what happened. I wish I did. I really what to know, but no one has it right now.”
IS THERE ANYTHING THEY CAN DO TO MAKE THIS CAR MORE COMPETITIVE WHEN WE COME BACK NEXT YEAR? “I thought the PJ1 helped a little bit. It’s just a challenging place to pass. It’s a really hard track to pass and there’s fall off, but it’s not like a ton of fall off to where there are comers and goers. It just seems like a lot of times, and being in the lead is such an advantage. These spoilers on the car, you get behind another one and it’s tough, real tough, so that’s the reason why. I thought the race track got pretty wide. It got to the point that you can get pretty wide, but you couldn’t overcome the advantage of clean air.”
KEVIN HARVICK, No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang
HOW WOULD YOU EVALUATE THE DAY? “I’d say about like I thought it was gonna go. The Gibbs cars were strong and we were probably about where we finished, about a fifth-place car. I’m just really proud of everybody on our Mobil 1 Ford for battling through the day and we’ll see what happens next week in Homestead.”
DID YOU LOOK AT THIS WEEK AS A TEST FOR NEXT YEAR’S CHAMPIONSHIP? “That’s what I said on Friday in my media availability and that’s what we did. We learned that we have some work to do.”
YOU’RE THE ONLY NON-GIBBS CAR IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP 4. WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO? “Beat three Gibbs cars. Go faster than them.”
IS THERE SOMETHING YOU’VE DONE THIS YEAR OR FEEL YOU NEED TO DO TO BE FASTER THAN THEM? “We’re going to do everything just like we’ve done all year.”
BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Mustang
“I don’t know if I had anything for the 11 or 18. I didn’t really get a chance to run around them on equal tires, but I felt like we were a top three or four car at least and lost a cylinder at the end. I felt lucky to bring home 10th.”
CAN YOU BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION AT HOMESTEAD? “We’re gonna sure try, I can promise you that. The tracks where tires fall off and the short tracks the Gibbs cars have been lights out, so we certainly have some room to be better and hopefully we can show it at Homestead.”
WHEN JOEY HAD TROUBLE DID YOU TRY TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED? “I don’t know. I just saw that he slowed down.”
CAN YOU BRING BACK SOMETHING DIFFERENT FOR THE SPORT TO HAVE A BETTER CHAMPIONSHIP RACE? “Yeah, I think there’s a lot of ideas out there and we’ll see. I don’t get to make the decisions, but I think there’s always ways to be better.”
ANY SPECIFIC IDEAS? “I feel like this is a tough track for this type of car, but you look at the tires today and I think at Martinsville we could have ran 2,000 laps. I don’t know if we could have gone 2,000 laps on a set of tires here, but maybe half of that at least. That really changes the dynamics because you get some guys that put a lot of camber in the car and take off on the short run and fall off on a long run. You get some guys that drive really hard on soft tires and wear them out and that creates comers and goers, but when you have such a hard tire, one that doesn’t fall off like these do, you’re not gonna see that.”
RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 DEX Imaging Ford Mustang
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT JUST WENT DOWN? “We ran third. I thought we got better all day. I thought we did a good job of getting better on long runs all day and the short runs too. We just got overall better, and then passed a couple cars we were behind the first couple runs, but nowhere near in the league, especially the 11, but in the 18 and the 19 were in. We’ve got to do our homework. We’ve got to start working on that. I’m really proud of the whole group for today, but the whole playoffs as well. It stinks that you miss it, but a solid day.”
IT SEEMS LIKE A GIBBS YEAR. WHAT DOES THE FIELD NEED TO DO NEXT YEAR? “You’ve got to figure something out, right? It’s gonna be the same car next year, so everyone will spend the offseason trying to figure out the most efficient way to build these cars and everything like that, and we talk all the time about how this sport goes in cycles and they’re obviously on a really high one all year, which is really impressive, but I’ve got faith in the whole Penske group to really find some stuff and hopefully we have a decent run at Homestead and that leads into next year.”
ANY IDEAS FOR WHAT NASCAR AND THE TEAM CAN WORK TOGETHER TO FIGURE OUT FOR THE FINALE NEXT YEAR? “I don’t know. It was tough for sure out there. I thought the PJ1 did a little bit, not much. You could at least go up there and get small runs, but they weren’t big enough. They’ve got to figure out something for this race because it’s gonna be a letdown if it’s like that and it’s the championship race. Hopefully, they can figure something out. I thought it was a start. They just need to keep doing their homework on it.”
DID YOU FEEL TWO TIRES WAS THE RIGHT CALL THERE? “What did we have to lose? We had to win the race. You don’t know if everyone is gonna do four and if you do two you’re gonna get the lead and be on the top on the restart and hold some guys down and be controlling of it. I didn’t even think second was an awful place on two tires. It’s hard restarting on the bottom, especially with guys on four behind you, but it’s a shot.”