Two Hendrick drivers among four Playoff contenders who make early exits at Darlington

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For four of the 16 drivers in the NASCAR Playoffs saw their races end early Sunday night at Darlington.

Michael McDowell who qualified for the Playoff field by winning the season opening Daytona 500, came into the Playoff field as an underdog. He certainly did nothing to help his efforts when he was involved in a crash on lap 31 just after a restart. The crash happened during close racing with Erik Jones coming out of Turn 2 in an area that was recently repaved. McDowell’s Ford was sent into the outside wall then careened across the track and hard into the inside wall on the backstretch.

McDowell was treated and released from the infield medical center.

The 43 kind of got everybody jammed up,” McDowell said.  “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.”

It was the turn of Kyle Busch next.

Busch found trouble on lap 125 when his Toyota hit the outside wall hard in Turn 2 after contact with the No. 3 Chevy of Austin Dillion, a non-Playoff driver who was running 10th at the time.

After the hard contact, Busch immediately took his crumbled Toyota directly to the garage and parked it behind the team’s hauler.

After he was forced to go to the infield care center, he expressed his frustration and put the blame on his team.

“It wasn’t the 3’s fault. We’ll just take our lumps,” Busch said. “We were running like shit and we got wrecked, so that’s what you get when you run like shit.

“Shouldn’t be there. I don’t know what our problem is; every time we go to the sim and think we have a good sim session we go to the racetrack and suck, so I’m done with that; we’ll have to use some other tools to figure out how to be good. The M&Ms Camry wasn’t running good and we got wrecked. Wasn’t the 3’s fault.”

William Byron’s troubles actually started on lap 15 when his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman spun in Turn 3 and clipped the back of Byron’s Chevy. Both were able to continue. On lap 200 however, while running seventh, Byron’s Chevy lost a front tire and slammed the Turn 1 wall hard. He too, was done for the night.

‘I’m fine,” Byron said. “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.”

Byron was joined in the garage by teammate Chase Elliott who crashed on lap 326 while running inside the top 10.  Elliott was part of a three wide battle for position entering Turn 1 and made contact with Christopher Bell causing a tire to go flat and sending him into the wall at almost the same spot of Byron’s earlier crash.

Elliott said he knew he had a tire going down.

“Yeah, just as soon as I was turning the corner,” Elliott said. “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.”