Playoff bubble bursts for Blaney, DiBenedetto, Custer and Byron

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Playoff bubble bursts for Blaney, DiBenedetto, Custer and Byron

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Playoff bubble bursts for Blaney, DiBenedetto, Custer and Byron

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All four drivers who went to Bristol Motor Speedway below the playoff cutline were the ones eliminated Saturday night.

William Byron’s night ended with an accident before the conclusion of the second stage. Byron ran into the back of Christopher Bell and damaged the radiator. Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney failed to win the race as they needed to do, and Cole Custer lost points that he needed to gain.

Byron finished 38th. In his second playoff appearance, this is the earliest he’s been eliminated.

“I think it’s been a great season,” said Byron. “I think that we’ve performed well. We would have liked to perform better based on how we ended last year, but we got a win. And I feel like really the last five or six weeks, we’ve had all top-10 runs besides Richmond, which is our worst track. Hopefully, we continue being fast the next few weeks.”

Custer finished 23rd. The rookie was a surprise playoff entrant after winning at Kentucky Speedway over the summer.

“We just struggled here,” said Custer. “I don’t know. I’ve always liked Bristol, it just hasn’t come together this year here. We’ve just really struggled. I just can’t thank everybody enough at SHR, everybody at HaasTooling.com, Autodesk. I just wish we had a better night. We were just a little bit off. I think we can hang our heads high on what we’ve done this year, but we still have a lot of races to win the rest of this year, so we just have to keep building.”

DiBenedetto had a long night, having to come from behind multiple times. A gamble for points in the first stage didn’t work out, and DiBenedetto then had to pit under green for a flat tire in the second stage. Another flat tire in the run to the finish resulted in a 19th-place finish.

In the first three playoff races, DiBenedetto finished no better than 17th. He made the postseason for the first time in his first season with Wood Brothers Racing.

“I can’t possibly explain to people the emotional rollercoaster of doing this for a living,” said DiBenedetto. “I’m very appreciative to do it and love it, and I hope I’m driving for this team next year. We have a lot to build off. We’re just barely getting started, but man, it is tough.

“I’m glad we made the playoffs. I’m proud of my team; tonight shows the fight that we have as a team, rebounding like that. I just hate that we missed the next round and had some not so good races, but luck tonight, you name it. But we’ve got a lot of season left. We still have a lot of positions in points to fight for and we have fast race cars like you see tonight, so we still have a lot of stuff left and hopefully a lot of good things to come.”

It was a terrible three weeks for Blaney and his team. After losing 10 points before Darlington, he finished 24th then 19th at Richmond and 13th at Bristol. In four playoff appearances, this is the first time Blaney has failed to make it out of the first round.

“I’m upset about it,” said Blaney. “I don’t want to be knocked out with seven races to go and not be able to run for a championship. I’m not very excited about that, but there’s a lot of things we could have cleaned up as a group together, myself included. We didn’t perform in the first round like we needed to to transfer. We just needed to step up, and we just had too many issues, but we still have seven races left. We’ll try to win one or two of them and try to get fifth in points.

“We’ve still got that, so there’s still a goal that you’re trying to go to. Yeah, it sucks that you’re not able to run for it, but I’m just disappointed — not really ‘disappointed’… it’s kind of hard to put into words. I wish we all had a better three races as a team. I know this team can have great races, and it’s a shame we missed that a little bit.”

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