All three drivers hoped to have strong runs in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway to give them momentum heading into the upcoming 10-race NASCAR Cup playoffs.
Blaney and Dillon had already qualified for the playoffs with wins at Pocono (Blaney) and Charlotte (Dillon).
McMurray, meanwhile, had to qualify for the playoffs on points — and just barely did so, becoming the 16th and final driver to make the upcoming 10-race playoffs.
But McMurray’s 14th place finish, Blaney’s 18th place finish and Dillon’s 21st place showing were not exactly the way they all wanted to leave the regular season and get ready for the playoff opening race Sept. 17 at Chicagoland Speedway.
NBCSN interviewed all three drivers after Saturday night’s race. Check out what they had to say in the video above and below.
Chase Briscoe wins Xfinity race at Bristol Motor Speedway
Chase Briscoe took the lead with six laps to go and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which marked the end of the regular season.
Briscoe passed Austin Cindric to assume the lead and went unchallenged to the checkered flag. The victory is his series-leading seventh of the season.
“I was so mad after last week (at Richmond),” Briscoe told NBCSN. “I told all the guys there ain’t no way we’re getting beat today. I was so mad after how we ran last week and I get on the internet all the time and see guys count us out after one bad race and I know what this team is capable. … I finished second here the last two races and I wanted to win here so bad and it’s awesome that I can actually celebrate it with all these race fans.”
Allgaier dominated the early portion of the race, leading 126 laps and winning the first two stages. But he lost the lead for good in the pits during the Stage 2 break.
Brandon Brown finished 12th and clinched the 12th and final playoff spot.
STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier
STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ross Chastain led three times for 117 laps, but had to settle for his fifth runner-up finish of the season without a win … Austin Cindric earned his 13th top-10 finish in the last 14 races … Harrison Burton earned his 13th top five of the season.
Spectators will be not be allowed for any of the NASCAR playoff races next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the track announced Friday night.
A press release said only essential personnel will be allowed to attend the Cup, Xfinity and Truck playoff races there.
“To say we’re disappointed that we will conduct the South Point 400 playoff weekend without fans would be a gross understatement,” said Las Vegas Motor Speedway President Chris Powell. “Our staff has been working – many of them remotely – since the February Pennzoil 400 to prepare the speedway for our playoff tripleheader.
“But we must adhere to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive that limits gatherings due to COVID-19. While we disagree with this policy, we have no choice but to oblige. We certainly regret this situation for the thousands of race fans who won’t be able to attend our NASCAR-weekend events.”
Nevada’s re-opening plan does not permit fans at sporting events, concerts. Groups are limited to 50 or fewer people.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson each will have a pit crew change for Saturday night’s playoff race at Bristol.
The change is the result of an injury to one pit crew member.
Dustin Lineback, jackman for Bowman’s team is out with an injury, the team stated. Kyle Tudor, who has been Johnson’s jackman, moves over to that role for Bowman’s team. Eric Ludwig, a backup for Hendrick Motorsports, moves up to be the jackman for Johnson.
Bowman enters the elimination race 27 points ahead of teammate William Byron, the first driver outside a transfer spot to the second round. Bowman opened the playoffs by finishing sixth in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. He followed that by placing ninth at Richmond. Bowman was collected in a crash and finished 37th in the May Bristol race.
Johnson, who is in his final full-time Cup season, seeks his first victory of the season. He finished third at Bristol in May.
Busch, the only driver among the bottom seven in the playoff standings with a Cup win at Bristol, is “ready to rip” at Thunder Valley to keep his title hopes alive.
“I feel like anytime you can go to a track that you’ve had past success at, it lends to just better feelings, it lends to going through the checklist items in an easier fashion,” Busch said earlier this week. “Our confidence is high going into the race. We have our homework done and now we go and race. … We’ve got seven points to the plus and that’s just kind of how we’ve been all year – we’ve been right around that 10th-place position all year.”
Busch has six Cup wins at Bristol with the last coming in the 2018 night race. He finished seventh in May to give him four consecutive top 10s there.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver discussed the “little weird things” one must account for with each visit to the short track.
Busch said there’s aspect about the track “(owner Speedway Motorsports) might not tell NASCAR, (and) NASCAR might not tell SMI.
“Then there’s the Goodyear tire that shows up with different stager values, even though it’s the same tire code. So, there’s a lot of little things at Bristol all the time. But with this being a cutoff, you have to just go in there and do it. Get the job done, don’t shy away from the pressure.”
For Almirola, who admits his career experience at Bristol has been “feast or famine,” his No. 10 team “just (has) to go race” and “score the most points.
“It is really just about racing and scrapping and getting every point you can get in each stage and then fighting for every spot you can get in the race,” said Almirola, who has one top-five finish in 22 Cup starts at Bristol. “Certainly once the race is happening and once you get through the first two stages, you will know kind of where you stack up points-wise.
“If I am sitting there running seventh, I am probably not going to stuff it in the fence trying to get to sixth if I know I have a decent gap in points back to where I need to. On the flip side of that, if we need that spot or a couple spots, then you are going to be super aggressive and do whatever you can to go get those points.”
This is the first time Bristol will be the site of a Cup playoff race.
Busch’s 2018 Bristol win is the only one he’s earned there in the stage-format era.
“In years past, to win Bristol you would set-up for Lap 250, you would set-up for halfway,” Busch said. “And you would just try to get through the first half of the race the best that you could. But you can’t do that anymore with it being the playoffs and with stage points. So, you’ve got to go hard right away, but you’ve got to build in that adjustability to be able to be that guy at the end that can win as well.”
The lack of practice this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic also changes preparation for teams.
“We’re staying on top of it the best way that we can,” Busch said. “I even asked the shock department yesterday to have shocks that can have compression and rebound adjustable shocks in case we are off on our setup and we have to go aggressive with changes. And the only time that you’re able to really do that is if you’re the last car on the lead lap on a pit stop or something. You’ve got to be ready for all case scenarios right now.”
For Clint Bowyer’s No. 14 team, crew chief Johnny Klausmeier said they’ll be on offense all night.
“We will definitely be paying attention to those guys within 30 points of us, for sure, to dictate our strategy, but, at the end of the day, you have to go be on the offense and that’s only gonna get you so far is trying to hinge off of others,” Klausmeier said. “You don’t want to put yourself in a bad position that’s gonna hurt you later in the race, either. So, you kind of have to balance that and see how you’re doing on speed, see how the car is handling and what you’re fighting and how you’re doing and then go from there.”