Team Penske went to the elimination race at Martinsville Speedway with three drivers still in the playoff hunt, but none of them will race for the championship next weekend.
Brad Keselowski finished third in a valiant fight to the end. One that included angering Kyle Busch because of contact in the final set of corners led to Busch colliding with him going into Turn 1 on the cool-down lap. Keselowski missed advancing by eight points as the second driver below the cutline.
“We gave it all we had,” Keselowski said. “We just needed to be a little faster in Stage 2 to get us a handful of points and be closer, and then at the end, I was just too loose. I just couldn’t quite get it perfectly tweaked in, but all in all, a pretty good run.”
Running third and lined up behind race leader Alex Bowman for the overtime restart, Keselowski was in the picture but didn’t have anything to contend with Bowman. Keselowski was left fighting with Busch as Bowman drove to the victory.
“He was so much faster,” said Keselowski. “He pulled two car lengths from me through the gears, so I was going to need a lot more help under the hood if I was going to move Bowman. So we’ve got a lot of work to do for next year.”
I will say we gave it everything we had. So close to realizing another opportunity at the Championship. Still incredibly proud of this team. pic.twitter.com/6aN5w4lOOu
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) October 31, 2021
Digging in hard over the final 50 laps to try and make something happen, Keselowski spun Chase Elliott in Turn 3. The contact occurred with 46 laps to go as Keselowski wore the back bumper off Elliott’s car in trying to take the position.
But Keselowski’s day, while disappointing, was nothing compared to the fight his two teammates had. Joey Logano was in a must-win situation but finished 10th and admitted his team was not fast enough in the Xfinity 500.
“We couldn’t get the car to turn,” Logano said. “It was just a struggle all day. We tried different things, but the car just wouldn’t fire off good, and ultimately at the end, you had to fire off good, and we didn’t have that either. We tried compromising to try and make everything better, but all that is is a compromise. The guys that win aren’t compromising, and it just wasn’t there.”
Not giving in until the race was over, Logano acknowledged the No. 22 team kept swinging at the car. On strategy, things went well, but Logano reiterated they weren’t fast enough to do much.
Logano was ninth in the first stage and did not place in the top 10 in the second. He also failed to lead a lap Sunday afternoon.
As for Ryan Blaney, he had his hands full with the No. 12 Ford. Blaney did not like the handling of his car for most of the afternoon and had his bumper beat in by a few competitors. Contact with Austin Dillon also left him with a damaged left-rear fender.
After looking forward to a track he’s been successful at in the past, Blaney wound up with a frustrating afternoon of racing. Blaney went from having one point to overcome to advance to failing to transfer by 20 points.
“We had one run where I thought we got going pretty good and drove up into the top 10 and made an adjustment and went right back to where it was,” he said. “It was kind of a head-scratcher today. I wish I could tell you where we missed it, but I appreciate all the hard work from everybody today. It just wasn’t quite enough.”
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 31, 2021
Despite knowing it would be a tall order to advance with how their days were going, both Blaney and Logano didn’t find it any easier to swallow.
“Losing is losing,” said Blaney. “I don’t care if you miss it by one point or 20; it stinks no matter what.”
Said Logano, “Losing is losing. I don’t think it matters how it happens. Whether you’re close or you lose by a lot, I think they both sting.”
The title race lockout for Penske comes a year after placing two drivers in the final four.