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October 22, 2023

Ryan Blaney leaves Homestead-Miami as runner-up, on plus side of playoff bubble

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Ryan Blaney put himself in position to earn the most critical win of his career to date. Those efforts ultimately fell short, but the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford left Homestead-Miami Speedway in steady shape heading into the final race of the Round of 8.

Blaney led 53 laps in Sunday’s 4EVER 400 and at times appeared set for victory, which would have locked him into his first Championship 4 appearance.

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His race changed, however, at Lap 214 coming to pit road under green-flag conditions.

MORE: Race results | At-track photos: Homestead

Blaney was leading Kyle Larson to the pits when Larson tried to carry too much speed behind him. Larson lost control, contacted Blaney’s right-rear bumper and slammed into the sand barrels attenuating the pit wall. That brought out the red flag for cleanup, allowing track conditions to change out of Blaney’s best favor.

“I really didn’t want to see that red flag,” Blaney said. “I would have liked to have just raced it there with Larson because it was hot and a long run to the end and just see who kinda came out of pit road ahead of each other honestly. Proud of the effort. Good day. I thought we had a good shot, just didn’t really work out for us at the end.”

The damage from Larson’s contact was an afterthought for Blaney, who was unaware of Larson’s charge to pit road until much after the fact. He hadn’t seen the damage upon exiting his No. 12 Ford but didn’t notice any change in the car’s handling.

His strength was the long run, he said, proven multiple times as he worked to pick up positions as green-flag laps ticked away.

On the restart that followed Larson’s Miami beach vacation, Blaney restarted from the lead left of Denny Hamlin. Hamlin got the better run through Turns 1 and 2 to snag the lead and a quick caution put Hamlin in control of the next resumption.

The duo lined up inverted from the previous green flag and Hamlin leaned hard on Blaney’s left-side door for multiple laps. That allowed Christopher Bell to power past for the lead before William Byron came through for second. Not long later, a mechanical failure sent Hamlin into the SAFER barrier and ended his day. Blaney was less than pleased with how the veteran 51-time Cup race winner ran him.

“He tried to slide me two or three times and failed miserably and then just decided to use me up,” Blaney said. “I mean if you’re gonna slide somebody, slide somebody and commit. Don’t halfway do it and use me up. So what did he say? Hack? I think he was that today.”

Through frustrating moments and lost track position, Blaney and Co. persevered to a runner-up finish, holding the fourth and final spot above the provisional elimination line with a 10-point buffer to fifth-place Tyler Reddick. Next week’s round finale is set for Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 29 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) — one of Blaney’s best tracks on the Cup Series circuit.

Blaney has yet to win at the 0.526-mile oval, but he owns a 9.5 average finish — his best on any track with three or more starts — with seven top fives and nine top 10s in 15 starts. Still, he’s not willing to write his name into the Championship 4 in pen quite yet.

“You never know,” Blaney said. “I mean it’s nice to go back to a place where you feel like you have somewhat of a clue of how to get around there and kind of know what you need. But at the end of the day, you never know what’s gonna happen. So we had a pretty good run there in the spring and hopefully we can replicate it.”