RICHMOND, Va. - Brad Keselowski called his shot. After stating in a Thursday media conference that he would be disappointed if the No. 2 Ford team didn’t dominate and win at Richmond, that is exactly what they did, leading 192 of the 400 laps en route victory Saturday night.
Joey Logano finished third with Kevin Harvick (7th), Aric Almirola (8th) and Clint Bowyer (10th) as Ford placed five of the top-10 finishers. All of the top-10 were NASCAR Playoff drivers.
Keselowski may have led the most laps in the field, but there were four other drivers who cracked double digits including Logano who held the point for 45 turns. Harvick led 42, giving Ford 279 laps led on the night.
Keselowski and Kevin Harvick, winner of last week’s event at Darlington Raceway, are the only two title contenders who have won their way into the Round of 12 so far. Denny Hamlin, meanwhile, clinched a spot by virtue of points.
Ryan Blaney’s opening round struggles continued at Richmond. The No. 12 Ford had to pit twice under the competition caution to tighten lug nuts and that put him in a hole he could never fully work his way out of en route to a 19th-place finish. He, along with Matt DiBenedetto, is in close to must-win territory at Bristol given the number of spots each needs to jump to advance on.
To close out the Round of 16, the NASCAR Cup Series will head to Bristol Motor Speedway for a Saturday elimination race in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
NCS RACE TOP-10 FINISHERS
1st -- Brad Keselowski
2nd -- Martin Truex Jr.
3rd -- Joey Logano
4th -- Austin Dillon
5th -- Chase Elliott
6th -- Kyle Busch
7th -- Kevin Harvick
8th -- Aric Almirola
9th -- Alex Bowman
10th -- Clint Bowyer
REMAINING FORD FINISHERS
14th - Cole Custer
17th - Matt DiBenedetto
19th - Ryan Blaney
23rd - Ryan Newman
24th - Chris Buescher
25th - Michael McDowell
27th - Corey LaJoie
30th - John Hunter Nemechek
BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 2 Western Star/Alliance Parts Ford Mustang -- VICTORY LANE INTERVIEW
DO YOU EXPECT TO LEAD ALMOST HALF THE LAPS TONIGHT?
“It was a great race for us and the 2 team. This is, I think my car from Loudon, and I wanted to do a really cool burnout with it, but I want this car for Phoenix. It’s 2-for-2 and I’m real pumped. I don’t want to look too far ahead. We’ve got to get there. The next round is gonna be really difficult, but, still, I’m really pumped about this performance and the way we run at short tracks. I felt like coming in here with the Western Star/Alliance Ford Mustang that we would run well, but this thing was awesome.”
WHAT KIND OF STATEMENT IS THIS FOR PHOENIX?
“We’ve got to get there. The last two years I haven’t made it all the way, so we’ve got to get all the way there, but if we can get to Phoenix, we’re gonna be really good.”
HOW PATIENT DID YOU HAVE TO BE WITH ALL THE DIFFERENT STRATEGY?
“Very patient. I tell you, it’s a chess game and I got blinders on. I don’t know what everybody is doing and who is where and who is on what strategy, but Jeremy Bullins, the whole 2 team, excellent performance. I can’t thank them enough. Thank you, team. Thank you everybody at Team Penske that gave me such a great car. It’s a really special day.”
YOU MADE TWO MINOR ADJUSTMENTS AT THE START AND DIDN’T TOUCH IT THE REST OF THE NIGHT. HOW AWESOME WAS THAT FORD?
“Yeah, it was really good. Our Mustang was really hauling. It’s nice that we broke the curse of the black and yellow car. Twice in a row it’s been in victory lane this year and we haven’t been able to win with it the last six years, so it’s good to do that for these guys. This car was really strong and I really got a great rhythm out on the racetrack. You’ve got to get a really precise rhythm for how you get around here and I was able to find that very early on, put a lot of thought into what I was gonna do and it paid off.”
NOT MANY CAUTIONS AND A LOT OF GREEN FLAG RUNS. DID YOU ALTER YOUR STRATEGY AT ALL?
“No, we were expecting there to be long green flag runs. We knew this was gonna be a really big pit strategy race, but we had the speed, we had the strategy. This team today did it all.”
THIS IS A SPECIAL PLACE FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY.
“It’s been 22 years since he won my family’s first NASCAR race, so it’s nice to keep that going.”
JOEY LOGANO, No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang
“It was a pretty calm race and we just kind of hung around in the top three the whole time. I felt like our car was pretty good in the beginning of the race. The track kind of tightened up a little bit and we lost a little bit of speed to the 19 and the 3 a little bit and also, obviously, the 2. Congrats to those guys. They were fast today. It just seemed like if we fixed the turn I got loose off, so it seemed like pick your poison a little bit. It just seemed like we had third to fourth-place speed in our car and we finished third with the Shell/Pennzoil Mustang. We’re doing what we have to do. We scored stage points and a top five and puts us in a pretty good spot for next weekend. I’m proud of the effort and proud of what we’ve picked up here lately since the playoffs started. We just have to keep it rolling. If we keep getting top fives we’ll get all the way to Phoenix. We just have to keep doing that.”
RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards/Libman Ford Mustang
“We have to win next weekend. It is pretty plain and simple. With the bad couple of races we have had here to start the playoffs off, we probably need to go out there and win Bristol. That is our mindset. That is our goal. It is our goal every week to win the race but now it is our season on the line. We will see if we can get it done. We have been pretty close at Bristol before, it is just a matter of trying to put a whole race together there.”
YOU HAD TO COME DOWN A SECOND TIME TO FIX THAT WHEEL AND WERE UNABLE TO DRIVE BACK THROUGH THE FIELD.
“Yeah, we started off okay and the first pit stop we had to come back in and start way at the back. We put lugnuts on the thing and those are mistakes you can’t have and we weren’t really able to drive back up through the field and lost a lot of time, and then that just kind of sets you back. It’s just another frustrating night here at Richmond. It’s frustrating because we put a lot of work into this weekend throughout the whole week and felt like trying something different and it just didn’t work out. That’s definitely frustrating and it definitely stinks going to Bristol being so far back and probably having to win the race, but it’s been a good track for us so we’ll see what we can do. I want to thank Menards. I wish it was a little bit better night, but we’ll move onto Bristol. We’ve got one more shot at trying to make it through.”
HOW DO YOU LOOK PAST WHAT’S HAPPENED THE LAST TWO WEEKS AND LOOK FORWARD TO BRISTOL?
“There’s nothing you can do about it now. What happened at Darlington happened and what happened tonight is already done and gone, so all we can do is look for Bristol and go try to have a really good run and try to win the race and move on. That’s our only hope, but we certainly picked a bad time to start running bad, but hopefully we can get it turned around. We’ve got one week to do it.”
MATT DIBENEDETTO, No. 21 Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford Mustang
“If there is one track to be in a must-win situation that I would choose it would definitely be Bristol. I think we have a good shot at it. It is one that I am excited about and have circled off in this round. I think obviously tonight was a tough one on us. It is tough with no practice. We had to really make a lot of changes on the car on the pit stops. We got it where it needed to be but it took a little while because of no practice. We got it driving decent and then there were just no cautions to get us back on the lead lap and get us in contention to have a decent day which we would have if we got the car right. So, we will go to Bristol and do the best we can. I think we definitely have a great shot at it. We won the Open earlier this year and have a lot to build off of. Our teammates were good and I feel good about our chances for sure. And I have some unfinished business I guess after last year as well.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE TONIGHT?
“It just took us a while to get our car where we needed it and we did get it where we needed it, but there were no cautions. We rode around and were in the lucky dog spot for what felt like an hour and I’m like, ‘Man, a caution would be great right now,’ and it just never came. We were just kind of stuck behind the eight-ball the rest of the day. We did struggle with the car and then we got it to where, honestly, I was pretty happy with it. It was decent. It wasn’t lightning fast, but maybe call it a top 10, top 12 where we could have salvaged an okay day, but I guess we’ve got to go to Bristol and win.”
YOU ALMOST WON THERE LAST YEAR. WHAT ARE THE CHANCES YOU CAN WIN NEXT SATURDAY?
“I feel good about it. All these guys on the Wood Brothers Racing team, I’m proud of them. They’ve been working really hard. I hate that we had a bad weekend last weekend and a not-so-great this weekend here, but Quick Lane being on the car and Menards, Motorcraft, everybody at Ford has been putting a lot of effort into this thing. Going to Bristol is obviously an exciting race and one that we feel good about and have a lot to build on and I think we can go there and perform.”
AFTER THE ELATION OF JUST MAKING THE PLAYOFFS DOES THIS SHOW HOW TOUGH THE PLAYOFFS ARE?
“Yeah, it can be quite humbling, I’ll say that. We had a stretch through the mid part of the year where I felt like we couldn’t possibly mess it up. We’d drive up in the top five and top 10 every single week and you’ve got all this confidence and then you can have a stretch where you just get pounded in the ground and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ but it just shows how tough the competition is and how perfect you have to be as a team, especially with no practice and then on top of that races where it’s a lot of green flag just like this. You can get humbled. It’s very tough.”
CLINT BOWYER, No. 14 Ford Performance Racing School Ford Mustang
“Certainly, Johnny being back home and Greg did a good job of filling in and making decent adjustments, but we were just off a click. Honestly, I thought we’d come to Richmond and run better than that. We needed to run better than that. Tenth place isn’t gonna cut it when you get in the playoffs. We’re looking for more than that on these short tracks in particular. We’ve still got one more. It’s a lot of fun going to Bristol. Being nervous about something there’s a sense of fun in that. I’m looking forward to next weekend and seeing how it all shakes out. We were good last time there and there’s no reason why we can’t be it again.
YOU ARE ABOVE THE CUTLINE, SO WHAT KIND OF CONFIDENCE DO YOU HAVE FOR BRISTOL?
“It looks like I’m plus three, so I’d rather be plus three than negative three.”
BOWYER PRESS CONFERENCE
HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU MOVING TO BRISTOL?
“For the time being, I’m frustrated with tonight. It was a challenge. We just struggled all night long. We were just off a beat, but at the end of the day we’re still in it. We’ve got to go to Bristol and perform. I like the racetrack. We’ve got some top 10s going and we’re definitely better, but we’ve got to be great next week. We can do it. That’s a good track for us and a lot of fun and a track that I feel like I can win at some day, so there’s nothing to be scared about going to a track like that. You’ve just got to go there and have fun with it like you always do on a short track and race your asses off and hopefully that will be enough.”
HOW MUCH DOES RACING TWICE THIS YEAR AT BRISTOL HELP YOU?
“I don’t know. Obviously, if we ran on the short tracks as good as I’m accustomed to running we’ve got to find something, but we can’t panic and shoot ourselves in the foot, either. We’ve got to go to Bristol and have a good weekend.”
WHY WERE THERE NO CAUTIONS TONIGHT? WHY DOES IT RACE LIKE THAT?
“My opinion is the tire. I think something is not meshing with the track. You look out there on the racetrack and all night long it’s had a lot of racing on it this weekend and it looks like a highway out there. It wasn’t putting any rubber down on the track and they’ve got to do a better job of that. That’s unacceptable as far as I’m concerned. I’m a fan of this sport and we’re gonna ask fans to come back one of these days and we’ve got to put a better show on than that. We can’t have it run lap after lap after lap with no cautions. Something’s got to change there and the first thing I’d change if I owned it would be the tire.”
WHAT IS THE KEY TO GETTING THROUGH BEING ON THE BUBBLE?
“Just do the best you can and don’t make mistakes. We’ve cleaned a lot of those mistakes up that I spoke of going into the playoffs and we’re still in this thing, but, for me, yeah it’s nerve-wracking or whatever but it’s also fun. It’s fun to feel that way. It keeps you alive. That’s what racing is all about. That’s what competition is all about. You go into a weekend and it’s just no big deal, hell, that ain’t any fun.”
DO YOU TRY TO PLAY IT SAFE AT BRISTOL OR GO FOR THE WIN?
“You’re always going for the win. If you’re in contention, you always go for a win. I’ve never went to a racetrack thinking I couldn’t win. The day that happens is the day you won’t see me anymore.”
COLE CUSTER, No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang
“It’s just classic Richmond, I guess. You just try and fight and fight all night for that perfect kind of balance and it’s just really hard to find. This track, it’s like you’re on ice out there pretty much, so putting a perfect car together is really hard. We had times where we were pretty good with our HaasTooling.com Mustang and there were times where we were a little off, and it just kind of led to an okay day. I think we’re still eight points out, so it’s not too bad and we can go to Bristol and if we have a good day, we can lock ourselves in, but it’s just gonna be a fight all the way to the end.”
IS THERE A POINTS PATH YOU FEEL LIKE WHERE YOU DON’T HAVE TO WIN THE RACE?
“Yeah, for sure. It all depends also on how the guys in front of us run, but we can definitely control a lot with eight points. We can go out there, if we have a good day, get stage points, we’ll be right in the thick of it.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BRISTOL?
“I have mixed feelings about that. The first race I thought we were good. The All-Star Race I thought we struggled a little bit, so I think it’s a place I’ve had success at in the past, it’s just you’ve got to hit it perfect and we don’t have any practice.”
CUSTER PRESS CONFERENCE
HOW DOES THIS EXPERIENCE COMPARE TO THE XFINITY SERIES PLAYOFFS?
“It’s definitely intense, for sure. Honestly, I think it’s a little bit less intense than normal just because you don’t have the practice and the qualifying -- you don’t have all of those intense moments throughout a weekend. So, now it’s just kind of you’ve got the race and it is what it is -- how it’s gonna unload and what’s gonna happen that first lap. There’s only so much that you can stress about. You’ve got to do your homework. You’ve got to make sure that you are prepared when you go to the racetrack and that you’re ready to adapt to what the car is gonna bring you, but there’s not as many places that you can mess it up, I guess, during a weekend. At least you have that, but the hard part is the unknown of not knowing what you’re gonna have.”
HOW MIGHT HAVING TWO PREVIOUS RACES AT BRISTOL HELP YOU CLOSE THE GAP ON YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH NO PRACTICE?
“I think it’s definitely nice to go back to a track that you’ve raced twice at. You’ve tried a couple different things. At the same time, we’d definitely like a practice for us rookies so we could try some things, but, at the same time, we should hopefully have a little bit of a notebook that we can try to bring our best piece back to Bristol. It’s gonna be interesting. Obviously, in this day and age with no practice or anything you’ve got to hit it perfect pretty much when you unload off the truck, so, if not, you’re just kind of scratching and clawing for everything that you’ve got throughout the day. It’s very hard to hit it right when you don’t have that practice to kind of dial the thing in.”
HOW DO YOU ASSESS YOUR SITUATION?
“We’re not in a desperate position. We’re in a position where we can control a lot of what happens and if we have a good day and run good and get stage points, we can point our way in. It also depends on how the guys around us run a little bit, but I feel like if we have a good day out of Bristol, we can get ourselves into the next round. I think we’re not in a bad spot. It’s still manageable.”
HOW DO YOU LOOK AT THIS RIGHT NOW IF YOU DON’T GET OUT OF ROUND ONE? IS IT STILL A SUCCESSFUL SEASON?
“I know I’m not gonna be happy. If you get knocked out of the playoffs at any point, you’re not gonna be happy with it, but we can probably look back and hang our heads high on whatever we’ve accomplished this year and how far we’ve come, but when you’re a competitor and that’s what we do, you want to go out there and I feel like we’ve grown enough as a team throughout this year and I think we’ve shown it in these last two races. When we hit it right, we can go and compete with these guys it’s just a matter of getting that extra little bit of running in the top five or so and if you can do that, that moves you on to the next round and we’ve just got to find that at Bristol.”
ARE YOU STARTING TO FEEL MORE PRESSURE ABOUT HAVING A SHOT AT THE SECOND ROUND?
“I’m sure when we get to Bristol and we’re about to take the green I’m gonna be pretty nervous because that’s gonna be a really hectic race that a lot can happen, obviously. But, at the same time, I think I’ve learned in these playoff situations that being nervous and stressful is not gonna help you. You’ve got to make sure you have a plan and make sure you’re just studying your butt off coming into that race so you know what you’re gonna be thrown into. The hard part that you stress about is just the unknown, like I said. You don’t know what you’re gonna have that first lap, so you just hope they hit it right and if you don’t, you try to manage it the best you can and figure out how you can help it.”