Bowyer, Byron on the playoff brink after Richmond

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Bowyer, Byron on the playoff brink after Richmond

NASCAR

Bowyer, Byron on the playoff brink after Richmond

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Clint Bowyer left Richmond Raceway frustrated after struggling all night with his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. He finished 10th for the second straight week.

William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports bluntly said Saturday night was a “slow death” for his Chevrolet team. Byron finished 21st, multiple laps down.

The two will go to Bristol, the first elimination race in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, fighting for the bubble spot. Bowyer sits in the final transfer spot by three points on Byron, eight over Cole Custer, 25 over Matt DiBenedetto, and 27 over Ryan Blaney.

“I’m frustrated with tonight,” said Bowyer. “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. 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 someday. 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 ass off, and hopefully, that will be enough.”

While Bowyer feels his team has cleaned up its mistakes from the regular season, it was the car that fought him at Richmond. Most of Bowyer’s complaints were that the balance was off, and he his frustration came through clearly over the radio about how to make it better. Running outside the top 10 near the end of the second stage, Bowyer had to fend off leader and eventual winner Brad Keselowski to keep from going a lap down.

Bowyer been eliminated in the Round of 16 once before, back in 2014.

Byron made the playoffs for the second time in his career when he won last month at Daytona, and things started well with a fifth-place finish in the opener at Darlington. An ill-handling car at Richmond was the team’s downfall as he ran mid-pack and then fell off the lead lap during a long green-flag run in the second stage.

“It is what it is — we ran horrible tonight and no excuse for that,” said Byron. “It was really kind of a slow death the entire race, so we’ll go to Bristol and regroup for that one.”

Byron wasn’t necessarily surprised by his performance as he admitted Richmond was going to be his team’s biggest challenge in the playoffs. They struggled at the track last year, and teams did not run at Richmond in the spring because its date was canceled due to COVID-19.

“We knew pretty early in the race that we were in trouble,” Byron said. “I think we lost like 10 spots in 10 laps, it felt like.”

Bowyer finished second in the spring Bristol race. Byron was eighth.

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