Brad Keselowski kicked off the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with a hard fought seventh-place finish Sunday night at Darlington Raceway. Keselowski claimed his eighth top 10 in 16 Darlington starts and called his night in the Cook Out Southern 500 a solid effort by his team. He is eighth in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs standings, 68 points behind leader Kyle Larson.

Keselowski started 16th in the 367-lap, 500-mile race and was credited with a 17th-place finish in Stage 1. For much of the opening segment, he hovered around 15th position. The balance on the Discount Tire Ford was loose as the stage neared its completion. Keselowski pitted three times during the stage for tires and adjustments but wasn’t able to make progress to the front. He pitted for tires and another round of adjustments during the stage caution and restarted 16th when the race went green on lap 122.

As darkness settled in, the handling of the Discount Tire Ford greatly improved. Keselowski worked his way up to 11th-place by lap 130. A badly timed caution on lap 164, just before a cycle of green flag pit stops were completed, forced Keselowski to take the wave around back on to the lead lap when the race went green on lap 168. He ran just outside the top-10 as he battled a tight-handling Mustang for the remainder of Stage 2 but fought his way through traffic to claim a 14th-place finish when the segment ended on lap 230. Crew chief Jeremy Bullins made the call for four tires and numerous adjustments when Keselowski stopped during the stage caution, and he restarted 18th on lap 237.

The adjustments by Bullins greatly improved the balance of the No. 2 Mustang during the final run to the checkered flag but as the race played out inside the final 50 laps, Keselowski needed a caution to put himself in position to contend for a good finish. He pitted under green for four tires on lap 301 before being caught out during the pit cycle when teammate Ryan Blaney spun on lap 318 to bring out a caution. Keselowski took the wave around and restarted 10th on lap 325. His break came three laps later in the form of the 11th and final caution. Keselowski pitted for four tires and restarted eighth from the final 36-lap dash to the finish. He passed Chris Buescher and teammate Joey Logano but couldn’t hold off a fast-closing Kurt Busch on the final lap and was forced to settle for seventh place.

“It was just a solid 500-mile race, and we ended up with a strong finish with our Discount Tire Ford. That’s something to hang your hat on,” said Keselowski. “We want to be faster, but when we’re not as fast as we want to be we can finish off races, and that’s important. There was a lot of chaos.  Every time there was chaos, I was thinking we just need to not dig ourselves a hole and take advantage of it.”