Cole Custer (41) and William Byron (24) at Bristol Motor Speedway. (HHP/Alan Marler Photo)
Cole Custer (41) and William Byron (24) at Bristol Motor Speedway. (HHP/Alan Marler Photo)

Four Drivers Watch Playoff Dreams Disappear

His luck didn’t improve on Saturday, when he had to win the race in order to advance to the next playoff round. He struggled most of the evening, finishing two laps off the pace in 13th.

“We started off tight and then that second run we got really tight after the comp caution and lost a lot of track position,” Blaney said of his race Saturday night. “After that, we kind of were able to drive up through there. We got to fifth or sixth the one time and we were super tight again and it went really long. That just kind of made it worse and we just kind of got behind there. The track just swung really tight.

“I was kind of tight all night, but it just swung really tight on us and that was just the wrong direction that the track needed to be at. That stinks. I thought we got our car pretty close there in the second half of the race after the second stage, and then we were on the cycle of pitting and getting laps down and was on old stuff, so it was an unfortunate end for this 12 group, but I’m really proud of the effort this year and we’re not done. We can still go and try to win races and try to get fifth in points.

“We’ve got seven more races. We’ll do our best.”

Custer was among the most surprising playoff contenders this season. The rookie driver for Stewart-Haas Racing earned his way into the playoffs thanks to a victory at Kentucky Speedway earlier this year.

William Byron (left) and Matt DiBenedetto (right) were both eliminated from the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs on Saturday. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images Photo)
William Byron (left) and Matt DiBenedetto (right) were both eliminated from the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs on Saturday. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images Photo)

However, finishes of 12th, 14th and 23rd in the first round of the playoffs wasn’t good enough for him to advance to round two.

“We just struggled here. I don’t know why. I’ve always liked Bristol, it just hasn’t come together this year here. We’ve just really struggled,” Custer said. “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.”

Finally there was DiBenedetto, who was the final driver to earn a place in the playoffs with a 12th-place finish at Daytona Int’l Speedway on Aug. 29 for Wood Brothers Racing. Finishes of 21st, 17th and 19th in the opening playoff round stymied him in his quest to advance to the second round.

“I can’t possibly explain to people the emotional rollercoaster of doing this for a living. I am very appreciative to do it and love it and I hope I’m driving for this team next year and hope to keep on doing it,” said DiBenedetto, who is in a contract year with Wood Brothers Racing. “We have a lot to build off of. We’re just barely getting started, but, man, it is tough. I’m glad we made the playoffs. I’m proud of my team.

“I just hate that we miss the next round and had some not-so-good races, bad 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.”

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