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SEP 5, 2021 | Ford Performance Staff

Three Ford Playoff Drivers Post Top 10 Finishes in Opener

Harvick and DiBenedetto Mustangs lead on the track

DARLINGTON, S.C. - On a night when a majority of the NASCAR Cup Series playoff field had some sort of trouble, three Ford postseason drivers came away with top 10 finishes led by Kevin Harvick in fifth place.

Harvick, who had his own issues as he dealt with a wheel issue in the third stage and then drove the last two laps with a flat right-rear tire, had a solid night otherwise as he led 20 laps and scored points in all three stages.  Brad Keselowski had a workmanlike evening as he avoided much of the chaos and finished seventh while Joey Logano was eighth.

Chris Buescher, who just missed making the postseason field, also finished inside the top 10 as he came away in ninth place with his Roush Fenway Mustang.

An omen of things to come occurred on lap 31 when Michael McDowell, making his postseason debut, got loose in the new patch of asphalt in turn two and hit the wall.  That was one of 11 cautions in the race and ended his night with a 37th-place finish.

Ryan Blaney, who led 17 laps and scored top-10 finishes in the first two stages, was in contention down the stretch until encountering brake issues that resulted in him spinning on lap 320.  Blaney was able to continue, but finished 22nd.

As a result of all the issues among playoff contenders, five Ford drivers find themselves above the cut line with two races remaining in the first round.  

Blaney (5th), Logano (6th), Harvick (7th), Keselowski (8th) and Aric Almirola (11th) are all in transfer positions as the top 12 advance after the Bristol race in two weeks.  McDowell finds himself 20 points behind the final playoff position.

The second race of round one will be Saturday, Sept. 11 at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM).

PLAYOFF STANDINGS FOLLOWING DARLINGTON (TOP 12 ADVANCE AFTER BRISTOL)

  1. Kyle Larson

  2. Denny Hamlin (-34 behind leader)

  3. Martin Truex Jr. (-44)

  4. Kurt Busch (-54)

  5. Ryan Blaney (-58)

  6. Joey Logano (-59)

  7. Kevin Harvick (-60)

  8. Brad Keselowski (-68)

  9. Christopher Bell (-75)

  10. Chase Elliott (-76)

  11. Aric Almirola (-77)

  12. Tyler Reddick (-80)

  13. Alex Bowman (-80)

  14. Kyle Busch (-82)

  15. William Byron (-89)

  16. Michael McDowell (-100)

NCS RACE TOP-10 FINISHERS
1st -- Denny Hamlin
2nd -- Kyle Larson
3rd -- Ross Chastain
4th -- Martin Truex Jr.
5th -- Kevin Harvick
6th -- Kurt Busch
7th -- Brad Keselowski
8th -- Joey Logano
9th -- Chris Buescher

10th -- Austin Dillon

REMAINING FORD FINISHERS
11th -- Cole Custer
14th -- Ryan Newman
16th -- Aric Almirola
19th -- Chase Briscoe
22nd -- Ryan Blaney
23rd -- Matt DiBenedetto
24th -- Anthony Alfredo
27th -- B.J. McLeod
28th -- Josh Bilicki
37th -- Michael McDowell

KEVIN HARVICK, No. 4 Busch Light Fan Design Ford Mustang -
A CHAOTIC RACE FOR MANY.  HOW WAS YOURS?
 
“It was the same.  We finished on a flat tire.  We had to pit for a loose wheel or a tire coming apart or something and got a lap down, and then got the lucky dog and just a lot going on.  That’s pretty typical of this race though.  I just want to thank everybody on our Busch Light Ford Mustang.  Our guys have done a great job.  We led a bunch of laps early and had a fast race car and were able to capitalize on a good day.”

IT LOOKED LIKE YOU WORKED HARD ALL NIGHT. 
“Yeah, we worked hard.  Our guys did a good job on pit road fixing the car, a flat tire at the end.  I finished on a flat tire.  I banged it into the wall a couple times getting a flat tire, but everybody just kept scraping and battling and doing everything that they needed to do to finish the race and we had a decently fast Busch Light Ford Mustang and were able to drive back hrough there and keep ourselves up front.”

WHICH TIRE WAS FLAT? 
“The right-rear tire is flat, so luckily we had a good enough lead.  I hit the wall and the fender got into the tire, so the last two laps the tire was flat, so we had a good enough lead that it worked out.”

WHAT KIND OF A START IS THIS FOR YOU GUYS? 
“I think it’s a good start.  I think just a little bit of balance here and there to get ourselves to compete for the win, but I think as you look at the overall speed it was fairly good.”

WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE TIRE? 
“They don’t think the wheel was loose, but, either way it was vibrating so bad I was pitting.  The what that it all timed out we were able to ge the lucky dog.  Our car was fast enough to get back up there.  We struggled a lot in traffic.  We just couldn’t make the moves like we needed to in traffic.  We had speed if we had clean air, but it just took us so long to get through traffic.  Everybody did a good job battling through everything that happened tonight.  We finished the last two laps on a flat right-rear tire, so that was a way to cap off the night.”

DID YOU FEEL YOU COULD HAVE GOTTEN A LITTLE MORE? 
“You feel like you could always get more, but we could have been wrecked too, so I think we feel pretty good about it.”

BESIDE THE WHEEL WAS IT A CLEAN RACE? 
“It wasn’t super clean.  We ran the last two laps on a flat right-rear tire, so there was just a lot of things here and there, but relatively clean compared to everybody else.  This is just always one of those races that has a lot of stuff happen and you have to keep yourself rolling and keep your car clean and that’s what we did tonight.  We had a few little issues, but we worked through them and were able to have a fast enough car that we could run top five and the rest of it, for us to run first or second we would need to be first or second like we were earlier in clean air.  When we had the clean air we drove away, so it’s just kind of the way it is everywhere.”

HOW MUCH DOES ALL THE CHAOS REGISTER INSIDE THE CAR? 
“That really shouldn’t surprise anybody.  I mean, we’ve done this for a long time, so if anybody is surprised they’re very very new, and Darlington in general is just one of those places that creates chaos in itself.  There are a lot of places that you can make a mistake and it’s the first race of the playoffs and everybody always loses their mind in the first race of the playoffs.  It happens every year.  If it’s not the first race, it’ll be one of the first three, or four, five in six, or seven, eight and nine.  At some point they all lose their mind.”

HOW DID YOU KEEP IT TOGETHER TONIGHT? 
“I’ve been here a whole bunch of times.  I’ve been to Darlington a whole bunch of times.  You race the racetrack and it’s just what you do.  Just because it’s the first race of the playoffs you can’t force the issue here.  You just take what you get and luckily tonight we had a good enough car to keep us up front.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT RICHMOND? 
“We ran well there and Aric ran better, so I think we definitely look at what the 10 did and what we did and try to marry those two things together and be better, so I’m looking forward to Richmond.  We ran well there.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang
“It was just a solid 500-mile race and ended up with a strong finish and something to hang your hat on.”

WHAT DID YOU SEE TONIGHT THAT GIVES YOU POSITIVE VIBES ABOUT THE 2 CAR?  
“We want to be faster, but when we’re not as fast as we want to be we can finish off races and that’s important.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT RICHMOND?  
“I feel really good about Richmond.  I think we’ll be really fast there.  I think that’s been a strong suit for us at that type of track and going there with real high hopes that we’ll win the race.”

WHAT DID YOU THINK WITH A LOT OF THE PLAYOFF GUYS HAVING ISSUES? 
“There was a lot of chaos.  Every time there was chaos I was thinking we just need to not dig ourselves a hole and take advantage of it.”

JOEY LOGANO, No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang
“I felt like we were probably about a fourth-place car.  That’s about right where we were running before the caution came out and we outsmarted ourselves a little bit with the adjustment at the end.  I was just too tight the last run and plowing actually.  I was nervous the right-front was gonna come apart as tight as we were, so I lost three or four spots there at the end unfortunately to that, and then those guys that pitted and put tires on was worth a little bit as well, but we only had one set left so you really couldn’t risk putting that set on then and run 15 laps and not have another set in the pits.  Overall, we did what we had to do at the start of the playoffs.  A lot of guys self-destructed and we were able to maximize our day and get every point, so we got what we got and we’ll move on.”

DID YOU FEEL YOU COULD KIND OF SWING FOR THE FENCE ON THAT LAST ADJUSTMENT CONSIDERING WHAT HAPPENED TO THE OTHER GUYS IN THE PLAYOFFS? 
“No, we didn’t swing for the fence going for something big.  We were trying to fine-tune and just got a little bit off.”

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang
“We had an OK night.  I thought we were a top 10 car.  We didn’t have what we needed to go up there and race up front, but I thought we had a decent car and we got behind on track position and bad restart and just got behind, and then our pit strategy we were hoping it would go green to the end.  We kept pitting early to cycle on new tires and we got caught with that caution when the 12 spun and we got trapped a lap down there.  It was unfortunate.  I don’t know exactly where we finished, but we certainly finished worse than what we should have, but we survived and it seemed like tonight was definitely a lot of attrition from the playoff guys.  We’re still in it.  We didn’t take ourselves out.”

RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards/Richmond Ford Mustang
“It’s a shame.  I thought we were pretty decent. I thought we could have ran top seven today, which would have been a great day, but we got some stage points though and didn’t wreck the race car, so that’s good.  I appreciate the Menards and Richmond Ford.  We move onto Richmond.  It was not a great night, but it could have been a lot worse.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT RICHMOND? 
“I thought in the spring we were really good there.  We were right up front and just kind of got caught behind on a pit sequence one time, but, overall, I thought we improved a lot there, so I’m looking forward to getting there next week and seeing what we can do.”

IT SEEMED NOBODY WAS IMMUNE FROM ISSUES TONIGHT, INCLUDING YOURSELF. 
“At least our car is in one piece, so that’s good.  After that problem you usually bring it back on a wrecker just like in Nashville, so luckily we got a car in one piece.  A lot of other teams had their issues, so, overall, not a bad night.  I wish we could have finished it off where we should have and been in the top 10 easily and got 10 or 15 more points, but we can’t complain too much.”

MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang
WHAT HAPPENED?
“I’m not really sure.  The 43 kind of got everybody jammed up.  I think he started on the front there without tires, which is a tough spot to be in and I just went three-wide underneath him and just got into the patch with my left sides just a little bit low.  I got loose enough into the wall and that was about it.  I’ll have to see the replay, but just heartbreaking for everybody on this Front Row team.  We had high hopes coming into the playoffs and this is not how we wanted to start it.”

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