NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Ryan Blaney Scores 1st Multi-Win Cup Season With Michigan Win

Ryan Blaney used a late charge on a restart after rain, crashes and more to score the win in Sunday’s (Aug. 22) FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway, his second victory of 2021 and first since Atlanta Motor Speedway in June.

Blaney fended off a charge from Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson after the race restarted with under 10 laps to go.

Byron and Larson ended up second and third, respectively, while Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.

Byron dove low on the frontstretch, but Blaney won by .077 seconds in the closest finish at Michigan since electronic timing and scoring was implemented. It was also Ford’s 42nd win at the oval and seventh straight.

DiBenedetto, Kyle Busch, Elliott, Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. completed the top 10.

” […] Got a great push by the 18 on the restart, was able to get clear there,” Blaney said. “Michigan is a matter of pretty much running wide open and trying to play the air game. I hate you have to race that way, but that’s how you have to run. Worked out for us.

“Man, we weren’t great to start the day off, kept working and working and got a lot better,” he added. “It’s so cool to get in victory lane for Ford here. […] That was cool, man. I’m fired up. I’m fired up.

At the start of the race, Hendrick stablemates Larson and Chase Elliott rolled off first and second, respectively, but the latter fell back and allowed Matt DiBenedetto and Busch to move into the top three.

Larson led through the competition caution, but lost the top spot to Hamlin on pit road. Hamlin was quickly passed by Elliott on the restart, who stayed out front until Joey Gase slammed the backstretch wall to bring out a caution. Elliott went on to win the opening stage, trailed by Larson and Austin Dillon, the latter of whom was seeking as many points as possible to continue his bid for the playoffs.

Dillon stayed up in second as stage two got underway with Larson ahead of him, eventually securing the top spot. DiBenedetto and Bubba Wallace, two other drivers looking to find their way into the postseason, also ran in the top 10.

The No. 3 fell back to third behind Larson and Elliott, but pit stops brought the latter two to pit road. Kyle Busch won the second stage, while Dillon had fallen back and was nearly side-by-side with Brad Keselowski coming to the green-and-white checkered flag when everything went (literally) sideways.

Contact between the two cars sent Dillon sliding up the racetrack and into the frontstretch wall at nearly full speed, the violent crash tilting the No. 3 up on two wheels and nearly flipping it over as it impacted the wall. It came to a grinding halt near turn 1 and the Richard Childress Racing driver emerged under his own power.

“Just trying to get as many stage points as I could get right there,” Dillon said after he was checked in the infield care center. “Did a good job side drafting, came down to the apron. … I was starting to just come up off the apron because it’s so rough down there, but I figured by that point [Keselowski] would’ve given me a little room.

“I hate it. I’m thankful the good Lord kept me safe today, that was a heck of a wreck but I feel fine.”

“[My guys] really wanted this one and I did too,” Dillon added. “Just working our tails off right there and I think we would’ve had a shot to do something there at the end with that racecar. Best racecar we’ve brought to the track  at RCR this year, I feel like, and just a bummer. We got Daytona left. Just hate it, I don’t know why it happened really. I thought I had a little room to come up and he just held me down there a little bit. Too long, I guess.”

Larson continued to lead once the final stage got underway, but disaster nearly struck as he prepared to come to pit road. The No. 5 ran out of fuel as he slowed in turn 4, essentially allowing him to keep close to his position once the cycle finished, but at the time Hamlin inherited the top spot. Byron, who was the very first to pit in the cycle, took the lead.

Byron, Larson, Hamlin and Kurt Busch ran under a blanket with less than 30 laps left, none of them able to pass the other for a good 10 laps before a caution waved with 21 circuits left for a slight bit of rainfall at the 2-mile oval.

The field circulated under caution for a bit before NASCAR made the call to go green. This was followed by a crash at the end of the first lap, where Joey Logano was spun around and collected Christopher Bell, Ryan Newman and others.

Josh Berry, substituting for Corey LaJoie, spun with the Nos. 22 and 6 but somehow got it back under control as he faced the right way again and kept going.

That set up a restart with less than 10 laps to go, Blaney shot to the lead and at least the top eight, if not top 10, all ran within a second of each other and weaved back and forth. Tyler Reddick‘s No. 8 spun sideways on the turn 4 apron with six laps left, but no caution was thrown.

Byron, Larson and Hamlin all tried to mount charges, including the two Hendrick cars attempting to work together, but Blaney held off all comers to win his second race of 2021 and secure the first multi-win season of his career.

The early stages of the 400-mile race weren’t kind to Blaney, but he managed to engineer the rebound perfectly and was in prime position for the final restart.

“We just worked on it a lot,” he said after the race. “We had our problems early, we took a lot of time to try to fix it. We got better and better. Picked a good lane on the restart there and got the push. It was really […] the 18 pushing me, that was the whole thing. I appreciate Kyle [Busch] for pushing me through there.”

As for the points standings, Kevin Harvick locked up a playoff spot. He struggled on Sunday despite sweeping the doubleheader at Michigan last year.

Reddick still sits in the 16th and final eligible playoff spot, with teammate Dillon 25 points behind the cutline. Heading to Daytona, the rest of the field still looking for a postseason berth still sit more than 100 points out from the No. 8.

Michigan Cup Results

The Cup Series next ventures to the 2.5-mile, high-banked Daytona International Speedway for the regular season finale. The Coke Zero Sugar 400 is set for 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, Aug. 28, with coverage on NBC.

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DoninAjax

What happened to the start time being moved to 1:00? The event would have been over before the rain screwed up the finish. In a way it’s too bad the event wasn’t another one shortened because of weather caused by a late starting time.

Laps 21-25 5 laps; Laps 61-66 6 laps; Laps 121-126 6 laps. 17 wasted racing laps, almost 10 per cent, lost for unnecessary cautions.

Echo

One of the best Michigan races I have seen in years. We got to actually see a group of drivers passing and going for the win up front.

janice

i caught the end of the race. it was good to see hard racing.

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