Track: Darlington Raceway
Race: Cook Out Southern 500
Date: September 5, 2021
No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang – Brad Keselowski
Stage 1: 17th
Stage 2: 14th
Laps Completed: 367/367
Laps Led: 0
Point Standings (behind first): 8th (-68)
- Brad Keselowski kicked off the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with a hard fought seventh-place finish Sunday night at Darlington Raceway. Keselowski claimed his eighth top 10 in 16 Darlington starts and called his night in the Cook Out Southern 500 a solid effort by his team. He is eighth in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs standings, 68 points behind leader Kyle Larson.
- Keselowski started 16th in the 367-lap, 500-mile race and was credited with a 17th-place finish in Stage 1. For much of the opening segment, he hovered around 15th position. The balance on the Discount Tire Ford was loose at the stage neared its completion. Keselowski pitted three times during the stage for tires and adjustments but wasn't able to make progress to the front. He pitted for tires and another round of adjustments during the stage caution and restarted 16th when the race went green on lap 122.
- As darkness settled in, the handling of the Discount Tire Ford greatly improved. Keselowski worked his way up to 11th-place by lap 130. A badly timed caution on lap 164, just before a cycle of green flag pit stops were completed, forced Keselowski to take the wave around back on to the lead lap when the race went green on lap 168. He ran just outside the top-10 as he battled a tight-handling Mustang for the remainder of Stage 2 but fought his way through traffic to claim a 14th-place finish when the segment ended on lap 230. Crew chief Jeremy Bullins made the call for four tires and numerous adjustments when Keselowski stopped during the stage caution, and he restarted 18th on lap 237.
- The adjustments by Bullins greatly improved the balance of the No. 2 Mustang during the final run to the checkered flag but as the race played out inside the final 50 laps, Keselowski needed a caution to put himself in position to contend for a good finish. He pitted under green for four tires on lap 301 before being caught out during the pit cycle when teammate Ryan Blaney spun on lap 318 to bring out a caution. Keselowski took the wave around and restarted 10th on lap 325. His break came three laps later in the form of the 11th and final caution. Keselowski pitted for four tires and restarted eighth from the final 36-lap dash to the finish. He passed Chris Buescher and teammate Joey Logano but couldn't hold off a fast-closing Kurt Busch on the final lap and was forced to settle for seventh place.
Quote: "It was just a solid 500-mile race and we ended up with a strong finish with our Discount Tire Ford and that's something to hang your hat on. We want to be faster, but when we're not as fast as we want to be we can finish off races and that's important. There was a lot of chaos. Every time there was chaos, I was thinking we just need to not dig ourselves a hole and take advantage of it."
No. 12 Menards/Richmond Ford Mustang – Ryan Blaney
Stage 1: 4th
Stage 2: 9th
Laps Completed: 367/367
Laps Led: 17
Point Standings (behind first): 5th (-58)
- Ryan Blaney started from the pole and led 17 laps before suffering brake failure late in the race, derailing a would be top-five finish. Blaney scored points and despite the brake failure, persevered for a 22nd-place finish in the No. 12 Menards/Richmond Ford Mustang.
- After leading the opening laps of the race, Blaney reported the Menards/Richmond Mustang was too free on corner entry, prompting crew chief Todd Gordon to make an air pressure adjustment under the competition caution at lap 25. The team would pit two more times during Stage 1, making steady gains in securing the rear of the car as Blaney remained inside the top-five. Blaney finished Stage 1 in the fourth position, collecting seven valuable points.
- An ill-timed debris caution midway through Stage 2 trapped the No. 12 Menards/Richmond Mustang a lap-down, inside the top-10 as the yellow flag occurred during a green flag pit cycle. Blaney remained on track to take the wave around. Blaney would maintain position inside the top-10, finishing Stage 2 in the ninth position. Under the stage break the driver reported he wanted a little more rear security, which prompted an air pressure change on the stage ending stop. Unfortunately, an uncontrolled tire forced the No. 12 Menards/Richmond Mustang to return to pit road and start the race at the tail of the field.
- After the penalty, Blaney began rallying back to the front through lapped cars and cars on the tail-end of the lead lap, racing inside the top 15 before hitting pit road at lap 271. Unfortunately, Blaney lost brakes at lap 317, resulting in a spin on corner entry, bringing out the yellow flag. The team would make numerous pit stops to work on the car to make it safe to finish the race.
- Blaney continued to run laps until the checkered flag, ultimately finishing the race in the 22nd position after leading laps and running inside the top-five for a great deal of the 500-mile race. Blaney was also able to score valuable points in both Stage 1 and Stage 2.
Quote: "It's a shame. I thought we were pretty decent. I thought we could have run top seven today with our Menards Ford, which would have been a great day, but we got some stage points though and didn't wreck the race car, so that's good. It was not a great night, but it could have been a lot worse."
No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford Mustang – Joey Logano
Stage 1: 10th
Stage 2: 7th
Laps Completed: 367/367]
Laps Led: 0
Point Standings (behind first): 6th (-59)
- Joey Logano started 11th and had a top-10 race in the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford Mustang in Sunday night's Cookout Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Logano flashed top-five speed at points in the 500-mile event, but ultimately finished the race in the eighth position. However, as other playoff competitors suffered early exits, Logano was able to gain valuable points in the first race of the Round of 16.
- On the opening run of the race, Logano reported the Shell-Pennzoil Mustang had great corner exit but struggled being too tight under compression in the center of the turns. At the competition caution, the team elected to make a trackbar adjustment. Through multiple pit stops in the opening stage, the Shell-Pennzoil crew continued working on the No. 22 Ford Mustang, keeping Logano inside the top-10. Logano finished Stage 1 in the 10th position.
- In Stage 2, a caution flag following a partial green flag pit cycle positioned Logano in the free-pass position, allowing the team to return to pit road and quickly move into the top-five on the ensuing restart. Logano slipped back to the seventh position to finish Stage 2 after battling a loose condition, reporting to the team he made slight contact with the wall on the right rear. Fortunately, no damage was discovered.
- Logano reported that the Shell-Pennzoil Mustang was loose for the first run of the final stage, with the team making a trackbar adjustment at lap 270 on the green flag pit cycle. The team made another trackbar adjustment and kept Logano inside the top-five as other Playoff competitors had issues late in the race.
- In the closing stages of the final run, the handling started to fade on the Shell-Pennzoil Mustang and Logano slipped out of the top-five back to the eight position.
Quote: "I felt like we were probably about a fourth-place car with our Shell Pennzoil Mustang. That's about right where we were running before the caution came out and we outsmarted ourselves a little bit with the adjustment at the end. I was just too tight the last run. I was nervous the right-front was going to come apart as tight as we were, so I lost three or four spots there at the end. We did what we had to do at the start of the playoffs. We were able to maximize our day and get every point."