Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman fends off Daniel Suarez for final NASCAR playoff spot

Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer made the NASCAR playoffs and Jimmie Johnson did not.

Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman did what they needed to.

When the dust had settled, and there was a considerable amount of it from all the carnage throughout the Brickyard 400, Bowyer and Newman kept Daniel Suarez behind them and that ultimately punched their ticket into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

Bowyer entered the weekend with an eight-point advantage over Newman and Suarez, who were tied for the final spot.

Bowyer ran inside the top-10 throughout the race and left with a fifth-place finish. If his job was to keep the others behind him, that’s exactly what he did throughout all 160 laps — even if he still feels disappointed in not having won yet this season.

“Well, winning would be better,” Bowyer said. “There is nothing better than winning. Playoffs are obviously a good thing and you have to be in the playoffs to win a championship. I’m looking forward to some of those tracks. I look back at Richmond and I should have won that race. I should have done what I needed to do and moved (Denny Hamlin) that day, gone on to win that race and drive off into the sunset. I didn’t and I still think about that.”

Bowyer has conceded all summer that he drives a top-10 car when everything goes right. It just hasn’t with any real consistency. He has struggled to adapt to this rules package and some of his best runs have ended with crashes.

Bowyer crashed out of three races in June and early July.

Now that he’s made the top-16, he can just press the figurative reset button and start over anew.

“We have 10 races and look at the last three races where they have been single-digit finishes for us,” Bowyer said. “That will get you a round or maybe two and builds confidence and momentum with our race team. That is what it takes. We are doing the right things and putting ourselves in the right situations to capitalize on other peoples’ mishaps instead of being the one that makes the mishap.”

And while Bowyer admitted stress throughout the afternoon, he had it pretty easy compared to Newman and Suarez’ battle.

Suarez immediately ran into adversity, hitting the wall to bring out the first caution of the race. Meanwhile, Newman was running inside the top-10 and looked poised to create distance between them.

And yet, Newman worked his way backwards throughout the race and Suarez worked his way forward. Remarkably, it was a caution with 26 laps to go that decided the final position. Suarez had just pitted and was trapped a lap down.

Even though he got the free pass, he could only work his way back up to 11th from outside the top-20, even as Newman fell to eighth. The difference was four points and another season in which Suarez, the 2016 Xfinity Series champion, failed to qualify for the playoffs.  

“We fought hard,” he said. “We made it all the way back to 11th and I feel like if we had 15 more laps, I was going to get the 6, But that is racing. It just wasn’t meant to be. “

And the immediate mood?

“A little disappointed,” Suarez said. “I feel like our team has been okay this year and we deserved to be in there. It is what it is. We have made some mistakes this year. We just weren’t good enough this weekend. Qualifying was wide-open and we qualified 20th. We just didn’t have the straightaway speed this weekend for whatever reason. We have to keep working on it and try to keep getting better.”

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