RICHMOND, Va. – Erik Jones spent much of his night in the top five as he has in races run over the past month. Joey Logano spent a chunk of his race in the top five. Clint Bowyer had an up-and-down night at Richmond Raceway. All were trendy picks to upset the playoff picture in Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with a Federated Auto Parts 400 win.
But after Logano’s runner-up finish, Jones’ sixth-place effort and Bowyer’s 24th-place finish, all three will not be part of the 16-driver postseason that kicks off Sept. 17 at Chicagoland Speedway.
“It stings to come up one spot short and not be able to get into the playoffs,” Logano said after the race, his first top-five finish since Indianapolis. “This is the test of our character, not only as a driver but as a team and the way we handle these next 10 races. We don’t want to roll over. We want to help our teammates try to win a championship, and ultimately we want to win 10 races. That’s what the goal is at this point. It may be the end of our championship run this year, but it’s not the end of our season.”
Logano capitalized on a late restart to get to second, but couldn’t overtake race winner Kyle Larson. The Team Penske driver carried a steady confidence all weekend long knowing his team was in a must-win spot and had won here in the spring, although the win was later ruled encumbered. The driver was proud of his No. 22 team for how it handled everything in a pressure-packed position.
“I’m proud of our race team, proud of the way we handled the pressure this week,” Logano said. “I said before the race started that this is kind of like Homestead last year for us. It just came a little bit early, so we knew how to handle these situations, and we executed as good as we knew how to. Just wasn’t fast enough to make it happen when we needed to.”
Bowyer was coming off a disappointing last-place finish at Darlington due to mechanical issues and had two career wins at Richmond. The driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford peaked with a third-place result in Stage 1, but a pit road penalty for a crew member going over the wall too soon on Lap 104 sent him to the rear of the field in 33rd place.
He battled back into the top 10 after pit stops following Stage 2, but was involved in a pit road incident with Matt Kenseth on Lap 260 that led to some damage. Another pit road penalty on Lap 364 for an uncontrolled tire essentially took him out of playoff contention.
Jones came into Richmond on the heels of three top-five finishes and five top-10 finishes. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender has been surging and by the end of Stage 2, he was in the top three.
The driver of the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing started fifth on the final restart of the night on Lap 403, but missed third gear and that caused him to stable back to eighth before finishing in sixth — for his 11th top 10 of the season.
“I was hoping we could make it three-wide and try to make something happen,” Jones said. “We were going to have to bully our way to the front and unfortunately we just didn’t get the chance. I missed third gear and messed up. I don’t know that I’ve ever missed a shift before. It’s just really disappointing. I really hate it for my guys. I just hate that we didn’t at least get a shot at it.
“We couldn’t quite find that last little bit of speed that we needed. Had the restart we wanted, had the shot we wanted. It just didn’t work out.”
Now, the 21-year-old turns his attention to finishing out 2017 strong before heading into the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in 2018.
“There’s nothing other to race for than a win at this point,” Jones said. “Hopefully, we can go out, grab a win and just finish out the season strong.”