Bubble drivers see playoff hopes burst at Bristol

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The four drivers hoping to race their way into a transfer position for the second round of the playoffs all failed to do so Saturday night.

William Byron, Cole Custer, Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney saw their championship hopes end at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Unfortunate end for this whole group,” Ryan Blaney told NBCSN. “Really proud of the effort. We’re not done. We can go try to win races.”

MORE: Click here for driver points report

Blaney was hurt by a 10-point penalty for an inspection issue before the Southern 500 playoff opener. Darlington and Richmond, the first two tracks in the opening round of the playoffs, also are among his worst and it showed.

“We just didn’t perform in the first round like we needed to to transfer,” said Blaney, who finished 13th. “We needed to step up. We had too many issues.”

DiBenedetto, in his first playoffs, struggled. He finished 21st at Darlington, 17th at Richmond and 19th at Bristol.

Saturday, a gamble to score points in the first stage backfired when the stage ended with a long green-flag run. He ran over debris in the second stage and had to pit under green for a flat right rear tire.

“If our didn’t team didn’t have bad luck lately, we wouldn’t have any at all,” DiBenedetto said.

With his playoffs over, he focuses on the remaining seven races and where he’ll race next year. Wood Brothers Racing has till the end of the month to pick up his option for next season.

“I can’t possibly explain to people the emotional rollercoaster of doing this for a living,” he said. “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.  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. Tonight shows the fight that we have as a team, rebounding like that. 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.”

Custer’s car was damaged during the race as a group suddenly slowed. He finished 23rd.

“That pretty much did us in for the night,” Custer said of the damage to the nose of his car. “Just part of running back there. We had to run better. I was probably a little better off. It’s just been hard to get the feel here that I want here.”

Byron finished 38th after his car was damaged in an incident.