Playoffs Plebes Concentrate on Concentrating

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 4 2021

Christopher Bell won his way into the Playoffs. Now things get tougher. (File photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Three of the 16 drivers vying for the Cup championship this year are Playoffs rookies in NASCAR’s premier series and it’s keeping their emotions in check that’s critical to their performances as the post-season begins at Darlington Raceway Sunday in the Cook Out Southern 500.

Michael McDowell and Christopher Bell earned their berths in the playoffs by winning the season’s first two races – the Daytona 500 and the Daytona Road Course, respectively. Tyler Reddick had to race his way in on points at Daytona in the regular season finale.

“I’m trying not to let myself overthink things too much,” said the 36-year-old McDowell, who is seeded 12th. “I’ve just been pretty laser focused on what I need to do. I haven’t really allowed myself to get too far ahead of where we’re at. Right now, we have Darlington and Darlington is the most important race in my life. After Darlington, it’ll be Richmond, so I haven’t thought about a lot of those extra things. I’m just trying to make sure we’re as prepared as we can for what’s in front of us.”

Unlike McDowell, Bell is no stranger to NASCAR’s playoffs. He was a title contender in the Xfinity and Truck series, claiming the Truck championship in 2017. However, Bell admits the Cup playoffs for him are different from the other NASCAR series in two ways. First, he doesn’t enter as a championship favorite but rather as the 12th seed. Second, they mean a change of pace in the way he races.  

“Since we won our first race the second race of the year we’ve definitely been focused on trying to win more races and not on the Stage points,” Bell said. “I think that’s really impacted our regular season points position and now … Stage points are going to be crucial for me and my team. So going after more wins in the regular season has now turned into points racing in the playoffs.

“I’m at the very bottom with basically no points. Instead of going into the playoffs with the mentality of just don’t eliminate yourself, now we have to be the aggressor. We have to be focused on doing well and winning points.  I think the biggest thing I have learned is that every point really counts.”

Unlike McDowell and Bell, who gained playoff entry via a victory, the 25-year-old Reddick had to defeat Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon for the final slot. It was a situation that resulted in the California native describing last weekend’s Daytona race as “one of the most pressure-packed nights of my life.”

“I thought we handled the situation as well as we could,” said Reddick, the 15th seed. “It makes us even more prepared and ready for the first round. (But) now that we’re in these playoffs, certainly, it will be a lot easier to allow the pressure to get to us.”

The Cook Out Southern 500 is scheduled for 6 p.m. on NBCSN. 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 4 2021
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