At Bristol Motor Speedway, Aric Almirola was on the verge of winning the playoffs, but an ill-handling race car and damaged tires prevented him from doing so.
Almirola had come back from an oil leak early in the race to re-enter the race, only to fade in the closing laps.
“Yeah, no, it was frustrating,” said the Stewart-Haas Racing driver. “Disappointed to have it end like that just because we had battled so much adversity throughout the night, got into a position where we were running top 10, doing what we were needing to do.
“That caution came out at the end where we had 18 laps on our tires. We stayed out. For whatever reason when we fired off on those tires, the car was up on the top of the racetrack skating. Wouldn’t turn. Struggling … I don’t know. That’s not the way we wanted it to end. But we’ll keep going and battle it out the rest of the Playoffs and see if we can’t finish inside the top 10 in points.”
Almirola’s 18th-place finish means he missed the Round of 12 by only two points, as did Tyler Reddick, who finished 12th.
The RCR driver said of the elimination: “Yeah, unfortunately we certainly gave up more than two spots over the course of this first round. Darlington, getting stuck down a lap at Richmond. Not just one key opportunity, but there was a number that was the difference.
“One situation, the situation tonight, doesn’t really stick out as the one that makes it sting. It was just unfortunate getting to the Playoffs, we don’t really have the pace that we had to just point our way into the Playoffs leaderboard.”
Kurt Busch was the night’s biggest surprise. Many thought Busch would be able to avoid elimination at Bristol after a good effort at Darlington and a top-five finish derailed by a cut tire at Richmond. The experienced driver has won six races there, and the Chip Ganassi Racing cars have been fast recently. However, the No. 1 machine remained caught in the middle of the field for the majority of the race, gaining no stage points and falling out of the playoffs. He was six points short after finishing 19th in Bristol.
The fourth and last driver to be eliminated was Michael McDowell. He, like Almirola, was a driver who forced his way into the playoffs with a surprise victory. He struggled for results in the first round and finished the race in 24th place at Bristol.
William Byron was the last driver in, coming back from an 18-point deficit to win by by two points. He finished third in the race after scoring points in both stages.
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