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Daniel Suarez ‘lucky’ to escape Clint Bowyer spin, Matt DiBenedetto near-win

Daniel Suarez finishes eighth at Bristol Motor Speedway, which puts him two points above the cut line for the NASCAR playoffs.

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Daniel Suarez admits he got “lucky” twice Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

He was more enthusiastic about the first instance of luck, which struck on Lap 243.

That’s when his teammate and fellow winless driver, Clint Bowyer, accidentally cut down on the No. 27 of Quin Houff entering Turn 1, which sent Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford sliding toward the exit of Turn 2.

“It’s short track racing,” Bowyer said. “You’re making split decisions. I was trying to pass those two cars and get more stage points for us. I clipped him. It was nothing he did. I was just trying to shoot the gap. I had a run on those guys and was trying to do all I could.”

Bowyer’s car began backing up toward the outside wall, while Suarez’s No. 41 Ford was fast approaching the same area.

The two cars came so close to hitting, Suarez’s spotter mistakenly thought they had.

“I’m probably a little lucky and a little good,” Suarez said after his eighth-place finish. “It worked out pretty good. It was tight, it was pretty, pretty tight.”

Avoiding his teammate allowed him to benefit from pit strategy.

With the caution coming so close to the end of Stage 2, most of the leaders visited the pits. But Suarez stayed out and managed to finish second, earning nine stage points.

Those points, along with his eighth-place finish put him 16th in points with two races left in the regular season. He has a two-point advantage over Bowyer, who failed to earn any stage points Saturday night.

“I feel like that was probably the biggest thing of the day,” Suarez said of the move to stay out at the end of the stage. “I feel like that was an amazing call from my crew chief Billy Scott.”

Suarez was less enthusiastic about where else he was lucky. Denny Hamlin passed Matt DiBenedetto with 12 laps to go and raced to his fourth win of the year. That deprived DiBenedetto of his first win of the year and means there’s still seven spots left in the 16-driver playoff field.

“I feel like he deserved the win, but you never know how things are going to work out,” Suarez said of DiBenedetto. “I feel like I have to do my race and let everything else play out by itself. I can control that. I would tell you that in a way I’m kind of lucky that he didn’t win. But I wish he was winning the race because he’s an amazing driver, he deserves a ride.”

Bowyer, who survived his spin and fought back to finish seventh, was very mellow after his first top-10 finish in five races.

“All in all it was a good weekend for us. Kind of a rebound weekend, what we needed,” Bowyer said. “We did all we could do. I was hoping to be a top-five car and when you’re a top-five car here you’ve got a chance to win. But we were just a beat off of that all night.”

Bowyer said on a short track like Bristol “you’re not worried about” points.

“You’re worried about keeping up with the race track, keeping up with your adjustments, traffic and stuff like that,” Bowyer said. “You don’t have time to screw with that.”

But with two races left in the regular season, Bowyer and his Stewart-Haas Racing team have even less time to screw around before the playoffs begin.

“Gotta do what we gotta do,” Bowyer said. “Let’s go race, you know what I mean? Just got to perform the way we can perform and do our thing.”

When it came to a playoff spot being saved by DiBenedetto not winning, Bowyer said “I hate it for that guy. He’s racing for a job and everything else.”