What drivers said after Southern 500

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A look at what drivers said following Sunday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, which kicked off the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs…

Denny Hamlin (Playoffs) – WINNER: “We had so many opportunities earlier this year to win races, and we only really had the fastest car twice and we understood that. But the 5 (Kyle Larson) just went on a tear there, and for us, it certainly is significant. I’m not going to downplay the significance of it. It’s not just another win. This one is big for us and our team and the momentum. We didn’t have the playoff points that certainly we wish we had going into these playoffs. There was no room for error. And now to punch our ticket to the next round, we get to go out there and focus on getting through that second round, which I think is probably the most dangerous.”

Kyle Larson (Playoffs) – Finished 2nd: “It’s good to get a good start. I think everybody’s, you know, nervous getting ready for the final 10 (races) and just the anticipation of how it’s going to go. So good to get a good first week in and build some momentum and some confidence within the team, so hopefully go to Richmond, be a little bit better than we were earlier in the year.”

Ross Chastain – Finished 3rd: “I feel like I’ve put in work, but I always feel behind, so I never feel fully prepared. So I’m not going to say that. I’m going to say it’s probably a lot of hot Saturday nights in South Florida, racing at 417 Speedway. We don’t run up against the fence there, but it’s as sideways as we are here at Darlington, and I didn’t run up against the fence at all tonight. A lot of Florida Saturday night short tracks and a lot of older, wiser guys and other racers down there that taught me a lot. To come back here now three years later for the people that supported me then and put me in that car, we’re still here and we’re still fighting, and it means the world.”

Martin Truex Jr. (Playoffs) – Finished 4th: “It’s kind of been typical for how we’ve been doing things the last three or four months. Just really strong race car again, the Bass Pro Toyota was really fast. Made good adjustments all day and as soon as it started cooling off, the car started coming to me and we were really good on long runs. We needed long runs and when we would get them, we would go forward. That was good. Then just the loose wheel mistake and fought through that and then I sped on pit road when we had the lead. I feel like we had a shot at the win for sure there, we were really fast that last run. We came from a long way back and passed a lot of cars to get to fourth. Never know how it might have worked out. All in all, just really proud of the effort and of the fight. The never give up attitude that we have as a team. I think this summer, we’ve been through a lot together and it’s toughened our edges up a little bit I think. We kind of went through that like it wasn’t anything. A little bit of frustration on the radio and then it was gone and time to go forward and dig hard. Proud of that and hopefully we can build off it.”

Kevin Harvick (Playoffs) – Finished 5th: “We finished on a flat tire. We had to pit for a loose wheel or a tire coming apart or something and got a lap down, and then got the lucky dog and just a lot going on. That’s pretty typical of this race, though. I just want to thank everybody on our Busch Light Ford Mustang. Our guys have done a great job. We led a bunch of laps early and had a fast racecar and were able to capitalize on a good day. This is just always one of those races that has a lot of stuff happen and you have to keep yourself rolling and keep your car clean, and that’s what we did tonight. We had a few little issues, but we worked through them and were able to have a fast enough car that we could run top-five and the rest of it, for us to run first or second we would need to be first or second like we were earlier in clean air. When we had the clean air we drove away, so it’s just kind of the way it is everywhere.”

Kurt Busch (Playoffs) – Finished 6th: “That’s what was most impressive was the speed. It was fun to lead laps and be up front. It just seemed like we were juggling a ball of yarn and it was somewhat unraveling the whole race; whether it was the lane choice or a pit stop. And then handling, we were a little bit loose there and a little bit tight there. That last run, everything was back where we needed it; but I threw away all the track position with a couple of fender rubs. We gave away a few points. I would have loved to have had a shot at trying to win it. We might have ended up wrecked, but we gave away three or four points tonight. Not all that bad. It’s a great way to start the playoffs with this kind of speed in the No. 1 Monster Energy Chevy. That’s what I’m really proud about with my guys.”

Brad Keselowski (Playoffs) – Finished 7th: “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.”

Joey Logano (Playoffs) – Finished 8th: “I felt like we were probably about a fourth-place car. 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 and plowing actually. I was nervous the right-front was gonna come apart as tight as we were, so I lost three or four spots there at the end unfortunately to that, and then those guys that pitted and put tires on was worth a little bit as well, but we only had one set left so you really couldn’t risk putting that set on then and run 15 laps and not have another set in the pits. Overall, we did what we had to do at the start of the playoffs. A lot of guys self-destructed and we were able to maximize our day and get every point, so we got what we got and we’ll move on.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 10th: “I’m proud of everyone on the Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Off Road Chevy team tonight. To get a top-10 after all of the challenges we faced is a really good night and shows how hard this team works. We started off the race a little too free in the Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Off Road Chevrolet, so we pitted during the first caution for adjustments, which really helped our handling issues. Even though we started from the rear, we were able to race our way into the top-10 before finishing the stage 13th. We lost a little something in Stage 2 after the 18 came down on us. We got some fender damage that affected our handling the rest of the night. We also had a bad vibration in the second half of the stage and it took all we had to stay on the lead lap to finish out the stage. It was great get a top-10 after a rough few weeks. I just wish we could have seen what we could have done without that body damage because the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Off Road Chevy was fast tonight.”

Cole Custer – Finished 11th: “Today was an up and down day. Our Ford Mustang started to come to us there at the end. Mike (Shiplett, crew chief) made a great call to keep us out in that second-to-last caution and put us back in the race. That strategy worked out in our favor, and we scored another top-15 for this HaasTooling.com Demo Day team.”

Daniel Suarez – Finished 13th: “I feel like we were probably a top 20 car most of the day. We struggled. We made some adjustments to get it back and I thought we did a pretty good job keeping up with the race track and everything. But we just have to keep working. It was a good education day, but we didn’t have a lot of speed. So, we have to keep working to make more speed.”

Aric Almirola (Playoffs) – Finished 16th: “We had a good car today, and we had good speed. We had a great day and our pit crew was on fire until the caution came out late in the race and put us a lap down. The strategy just didn’t play out for us there, but that’s how it goes. We controlled as much as we could control and showed we’re serious contenders.”

Tyler Reddick (Playoffs) – Finished 18th: “It’s a head-scratcher because we were running there towards the end of the day. I mean, we haven’t been running back there all year. It’s definitely frustrating. I know everyone really pushes when the playoffs get here to be performing at our best level. We did the same but just weren’t even close.”

Chase Briscoe – Finished 19th: “The HighPoint.com/Founders Federal Credit Union Ford Mustang was pretty good on the long run once we made some adjustments and the sun went down, but the handling just wasn’t where we needed it to be overall. We’ve still got time to get a win before the season’s over. This was just an off day that we’ll move on from and try to keep improving over the next nine races.”

Christopher Bell (Playoffs) – Finished 20th: “The positives were, once again like the last five or six weeks, we’ve been really competitive. Probably longer than that. I felt like our SportClips Camry was capable of running inside the top-two or three. We ran 20th. It seems like that’s happened a lot and obviously we can’t really have that in the playoffs. It’s a bummer because today was a great opportunity to try to capitalize on other people’s misfortune and we didn’t. Looking at the Playoff grid, we’re still ahead, but we could be way ahead.”

Ryan Blaney (Playoffs) – Finished 22nd: “At least our car is in one piece, so that’s good. After that problem you usually bring it back on a wrecker just like in Nashville, so luckily we got a car in one piece. A lot of other teams had their issues, so, overall, not a bad night. I wish we could have finished it off where we should have and been in the top 10 easily and got 10 or 15 more points, but we can’t complain too much.”

Alex Bowman (Playoffs) – Finished 26th: “I got into the wall into turn one. I was just really loose. The 8 (Tyler Reddick) got to us. I don’t know if he carried me off into the corner or if I just got loose. Either way, it’s just part of it. I just got loose and ended up in the wall right rear first and had damage. And then, that’s what eventually cut the tire to end up in the wall in turn three.”

Chase Elliott (Playoffs) – Finished 31st: “Yeah, just as soon as I was turning the corner (I knew the tire was going down). Just really appreciate NAPA for letting us run this special scheme and making it a special weekend for some of these kids from Children’s (Healthcare of Atlanta). On my end, just made way too many mistakes. That’s what you deserve when you make that many mistakes. Onward.”

Erik Jones – Finished 32nd: “Just a tough day for our Richard Petty Motorsports team. Our No. 43 Petty’s Garage Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE never had the balance all night. Then unfortunately we had a motor issue that ended our day just as we started to make some gains on the handling.”

William Byron (Playoffs) – Finished 34th: “Yeah, I’m fine. That was a big hit. It looked like on that pit stop, it looked like we dropped the jack and the left front was still finishing up. I took off and everything felt okay. I went to pass the No. 00 (Quin Houff) or somebody down the front stretch; and was just about to turn into (Turn) 1 and the left front went down. There was nothing we could do. The guys did an awesome job to fix it. We were running like Top-12, I think, even with all the (earlier) right rear damage and it’s just terrible. I don’t know, man. That sucks.”

Kyle Busch (Playoffs) – Finished 35th: “We’ll just take our lumps. We were running like (expletive). We got wrecked. It’s what you get when you run like (expletive). We shouldn’t be there. I don’t know what our problem is, but every time I go to sim and use sim and think we had a good sim session, we go to the race track and we suck. So, I’m done with that. We’ll have to use some other tools on figuring out how to be good. The M&M’s Camry was not very good and we were running terrible and we got wrecked. It wasn’t the No. 3’s (Austin Dillon) fault.”

Michael McDowell (Playoffs) – Finished 37th: “I’m not really sure (what happened). The 43 (Erik Jones) kind of got everybody jammed up. I think he started on the front there without tires, which is a tough spot to be in and I just went three-wide underneath him and just got into the patch with my left sides just a little bit low. I got loose enough into the wall and that was about it. I’ll have to see the replay, but just heartbreaking for everybody on this Front Row team. We had high hopes coming into the playoffs and this is not how we wanted to start it.”