DARLINGTON, S.C. - The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs got off to a wild start as many of the championship favorites suffered major problems and a non-playoff driver came out with the win as Erik Jones won the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway for the second time.
Ford’s five postseason drivers weren’t immune to some of the chaos. Chase Briscoe was the first to encounter bad luck when fellow playoff driver Chase Elliott hit the wall with two laps to go in Stage 1. Briscoe was behind and had nowhere to go, hitting the No. 9 Chevrolet and incurring damage that forced him to pit road and four laps down.
It continued on lap 275 when Kevin Harvick’s Mustang caught fire for no apparent reason. He was forced to stop and get out as fire and smoke filled the cockpit. Harvick was uninjured and credited with a 33rd-place finish.
The Team Penske trio of Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric all had up-and-down nights, but managed to avoid any major setbacks. Logano and Blaney were competitive all night, especially Logano as he led the first 64 laps after winning the pole, but both lost track position with Harvick’s ill-timed caution. Logano was able to recover and finish fourth while Blaney ended up 13th. Cindric stayed clean much of the evening and finished 16th.
Two of Ford’s non-playoff drivers also registered strong finishes as Michael McDowell took the checkered flag in sixth and Brad Keselowski was one spot behind in seventh.
With two races remaining in the opening round, three Ford drivers find themselves on the outside looking in, but with manageable deficits to overcome. Logano leads the points standings with Blaney sixth while Cindric, Briscoe and Harvick are 13th, 15th and 16th, respectively.
The Cup Series Playoffs continue on Sunday, Sept. 11 (3 p.m. ET, USA, Peacock, MRN, SiriusXM) at Kansas Speedway.
FORD DRIVERS IN THE PLAYOFF STANDINGS (Top 12 Advance After Bristol)
1st – Joey Logano (+38 above cut line)
6th – Ryan Blaney (+20)
13th – Austin Cindric (-2 below cut line)
15th – Chase Briscoe (-10)
16th – Kevin Harvick (-13)
NCS RACE TOP-10 FINISHERS
1st – Erik Jones
2nd – Denny Hamlin
3rd – Tyler Reddick
4th – Joey Logano
5th – Christopher Bell
6th – Michael McDowell
7th – Brad Keselowski
8th – William Byron
9th – Bubba Wallace
10th – Alex Bowman
REMAINING FORD FINISHERS
11th – Aric Almirola
13th – Ryan Blaney
14th – Cole Custer
16th – Austin Cindric
21st –Harrison Burton
26th – Chris Buescher
27th – Chase Briscoe
28th – Todd Gilliland
29th – BJ McLeod
32nd – Cody Ware
33rd – Kevin Harvick
34th – JJ Yeley
JOEY LOGANO, No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang
“It’s a solid day but a missed opportunity is probably where I would put it. With so many others having trouble, every time you come to the Southern 500, especially in the playoffs, you’ve just got to survive and you get a solid finish. That’s what we were able to do is finish fourth after so many teams had issues. We had plenty of our own issues, too. We gave up track position a couple times and then we got caught with that caution and lost track position fairly late in the race, and then we just battled hard. It’s really hard to come up through the field here. It’s really hard to pass and was able to kind of battle back and get a top five out of it, which is OK. I mean, you’ve got to be happy about it because we scored a lot of points and that’s what it’s all about here in the first round, but also a missed opportunity to win the Southern 500 and I really want that one. That one stings a little bit because I think we were better than the cars in front of us if we had the air. If we were able to stay towards the front we could tune to cleaner air, instead of going in the back and trying to tune to dirty air. We just set ourselves back too far.”
HARVICK HAD A PARTS ISSUE AND EVERYBODY HAS THE SAME PARTS. DO YOU WORRY ABOUT THAT?
“Absolutely. I mean, I worry about it for two reasons. One, it took a lot of points away from him today and he’s racing for a championship – stuff that’s out of his control and out of his team’s control. That’s concerning. The second thing that’s concerning is his car’s on fire. Maybe that’s the first thing that should be concerning is that cars are still catching on fire. We’ve got to fix that.”
AUSTIN CINDRIC, No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang
“We didn’t take ourselves out of it tonight and that was certainly goal number one. I just wish we would have made more progress in the car tonight. We really struggled on the short runs and really got my lunch money taken on restarts and felt like we could hang with the rest of them on the long runs, but anytime we’d try to fix that we’d kind of just hurt the rest. It’s certainly something to learn for tonight and those restarts and I lost track position really kept killing us, but we didn’t take ourselves out of it. We were able to come away with more points than a lot of guys, so I’ll take it, but I’m certainly not satisfied with it.”
WAS THIS THE MOST CHALLENGING RACE OF YOUR CAREER LIKE YOU SAID EARLY THIS WEEK?
“Yeah, I just wish I would walk out feeling like I learned more, to be honest. That’s the frustrating thing when you feel like you haven’t made enough gains throughout a race this long, so it’s certainly challenging. The team kept me in the game and some days that’s all you can ask for.”
RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards/Moen Ford Mustang
“The caution hit us at the wrong time, but we were gonna be fine and then we had to re-pit for a wheel that was gonna be loose. You can’t do that when there are 20 laps to go in the race. It’s just unfortunate, but, like I said, we stayed in it all day and got some decent stage points and at least finished.”
WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT SOME OF THESE TOP GUYS HAVING ISSUES IN THE FIRST PLAYOFF RACE. IT’S HAPPENED BEFORE.
“I think it always happens this way. I don’t know, it’s the jitters of the first playoff race and running at Darlington. It’s a tough spot and you see a lot of mistakes that are self-induced and some that are not self-induced, but there always seems to be problems. It’s a good thing we didn’t have too bad of a problem.”
CHASE BRISCOE, No. 14 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang
“We just really struggled with the balance. At the beginning of the race we were starting off extremely tight and then we got to where we were extremely loose and then we had nowhere to go with the 9 car when he wrecked. That kind of killed our day, but we were able to get lucky because a lot of those guys had issues, too. It’s not the way we wanted to start the round by any means, but we’re gonna have to improve and we’re probably gonna have to win. I don’t even know what the points look like, but we shouldn’t have been in that situation where we were struggling anyway. We just couldn’t find the balance. It’s unfortunate, but we know what we’ve got to do now and that’s what we’ll try to go do.”
DID YOU SEE THE 9 COMING BACK UP THE TRACK? YOU OBVIOUSLY WOULD HAVE AVOIDED IT IF YOU COULD HAVE.
“When he went into one he just plugged the fence and then he started spinning and he went down, and I felt like if I stayed up on the bank I didn’t feel like he was gonna come up, and then right when he came up I saw him coming and I locked them up. Once I locked them up I was just sliding with him. I wish I could do it over again. Obviously, it’s way easier in hindsight, but it was a split-second decision and I made the wrong decision.”
KEVIN HARVICK, No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang
THAT LOOKED LIKE A SCARY FIRE. WHAT LED TO THAT?
“I’m sure it’s just crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times. They haven’t fixed anything. It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it keep going and keep going. The car started burning and as it burned the flames started coming through the dash. I ran a couple laps and then as the flame got bigger it started burning stuff up and I think right there you see all the brake fluid that was probably coming out the brakes and part of the brake line, but the fire was coming through the dash. What a disaster for no reason. We didn’t touch the wall. We didn’t touch a car and here we are in the pits with a burned up car and we can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of crappy ass parts.”
SO IT WASN’T AN ENGINE ISSUE ORIGINALLY?
“No, I just stopped. The rocker was on fire for a couple laps. I just stopped because I couldn’t see anymore because the flames were coming through the dash and I couldn’t make myself sit in there and burn up.”
MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 FR8 Auctions Ford Mustang
“We had a really fast FR8 Auctions Ford Mustang. We were really good on the long run, but honestly we just needed to execute a little bit better on pit road. We just lost a few spots each time and then had to pass those cars back and lose a little bit of momentum, but Darlington is a tough place. Running 500 miles here is just tough and to run as competitive as we did all night and run up front I’m really proud of the effort, but I’m not surprised, either. We’ve had speed. We’ve been fast. We’ve had a lot of top 10s this year. That was probably one of our better performances on what I would call a mile-and-a-half style racetrack, so we’re making good gains. Everything is good and in a positive direction, so I’m thankful to get out of here. We had a couple close calls like you would image in a 500-mile race, but I’m proud of the effort.”