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Blaney Persists; Wins at Michigan

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, August 23 2021

Ryan Blaney takes the checkered flag just ahead of William Byron at Michigan on Sunday. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

During the early laps of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race, it appeared as though Ryan Blaney’s Team Penske Ford was stuck in gear – reverse. Cars were blowing past and Blaney’s car was sinking faster than his hopeful outlook.

But as the race wore on, Blaney and team showed that cautions can be used for something other than jamming more television commercials in the broadcasts. They can be used to make slow cars into fast cars.

By the end of the 200-lapper at 2-mile Michigan International Speedway, Blaney had a very fast car. Fast enough to take the lead on a restart with eight laps to go, hold off a knot of other fast and squeeze out a victory.

The victory was his second of the season. His eight laps led were his only laps led.

“The first run wasn’t very pretty,” Blaney said. “We slid backwards pretty good and we put packer in the right front and did a lot of stuff to try to free it up. There were a lot of changes but hopefully it paid off in the end and the last restart went our way too and we were able to hold those guys off the last 10 laps or so. That was stressful. That is not the ideal way to race, just blocking everybody, but it is what you have to do nowadays and Josh did a really good job up top. It is nice to be in victory lane.”

Blaney finished just a nose (.077 seconds) ahead of William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports, who finished second.

“That was cool, man,” Blaney said. “I’m fired up.”

Lending a hand in the coolness, was Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing

“We got a great push by the 18 on the restart,” Blaney said of his move to the lead, “and I was able to clear there.”

Kyle Larson of Hendrick, looking for his sixth win of the season, had to settle for third place after leading a race-best 71 laps.

“The restart, the last one, worked out a little bit better than I thought it was going to for me,” Larson said. “But the 11 (Denny Hamlin) kind of tried to take the 24 (Byron) three wide and they got loose and I got to the middle and came out third or something. I was able to get to second but just made a couple bad moves. Just, honestly, a little too patient behind the 12 (Blaney). Could have made some later, dives to the inside, I guess. Just made a couple wrong moves and let William get by me. 

Kurt Busch finished fourth in his Chip Ganassi Chevy.

Hamlin, who appeared to be a threat to get his first victory of the season after leading 10 laps, was fifth in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Hamlin said his team “has just been really strong all year long. We just can’t get a caution right, we can’t get a restart right, can’t get just little tiny things right to get a win.”

The margin between the first- and fifth-place care cars at the finish was .39 seconds.

For large chunks of the first two stages, it appeared that Chase Elliott would challenge for the victory — he led 37 laps in the first stage and 31 in the second. When he wasn’t leading, he was threatening for the lead. But on his pit stop between the second and final stage, a two-tire stop sent him backward and out of contention. He finished a disappointing eighth after leading 68 laps.

With Michigan over, just one race remains before the start of the 10-race, 16-driver Playoffs.

Fourteen drivers started Sunday having clinched berths.

A 15th, Kevin Harvick, officially clinched on points Sunday.

A top contender for biggest heartbreak of the day was Austin Dillon. The Richard Childress Racing driver who started the day just outside of the Playoffs cutoff line was having a terrific race as he was running for the lead for much of the second stage. But while running sixth at the end of the stage, he made contact with the car of Brad Keselowski and was spun violently into the wall.

He will now likely need to win at Daytona to earn a berth.

“I think we would have had a shot to do something there at the end with that race car,” Dillon said. “Best race car we’ve brought to a race track this year at RCR.

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NASCAR Cup Series Race – 53rd Annual FireKeepers Casino 400
Michigan International Speedway
Brooklyn, Michigan
Sunday, August 22, 2021

1. (3) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 200.
2. (18) William Byron, Chevrolet, 200.
3. (1) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 200.
4. (6) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 200.
5. (9) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 200.
6. (4) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 200.
7. (7) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 200.
8. (2) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 200.
9. (20) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 200.
10. (5) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 200.
11. (21) Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 200.
12. (12) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 200.
13. (28) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 200.
14. (8) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 200.
15. (11) Chris Buescher, Ford, 200.
16. (10) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 200.
17. (23) Aric Almirola, Ford, 200.
18. (13) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 200.
19. (15) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 200.
20. (25) Michael McDowell, Ford, 200.
21. (32) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 200.
22. (30) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 200.
23. (27) Cole Custer, Ford, 200.
24. (16) Ryan Newman, Ford, 200.
25. (17) Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 200.
26. (24) Josh Berry(i), Chevrolet, 200.
27. (37) Cody Ware(i), Chevrolet, 199.
28. (36) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 198.
29. (14) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 198.
30. (31) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 196.
31. (29) Josh Bilicki, Ford, 195.
32. (33) Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 194.
33. (19) Joey Logano, Ford, DVP, 188.
34. (35) Anthony Alfredo #, Ford, 178.
35. (22) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 152.
36. (26) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, Accident, 120.
37. (34) Joey Gase(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 29.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 142.476 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 48 Mins, 27 Secs. Margin of Victory: .077 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 6 for 29 laps.
Lead Changes: 20 among 11 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K. Larson 1-2;M. DiBenedetto 3;K. Larson 4-22;D. Hamlin 23-26;C. Elliott 27-63;K. Larson 64-65;A. Dillon 66-67;K. Larson 68-79;C. Elliott 80-110;K. Busch 111-113;C. Bell 114-115;K. Busch 116-122;K. Larson 123-126;K. Busch 127;K. Larson 128-158;D. Hamlin 159-164;K. Busch 165-167;B. Keselowski 168-173;C. Bell 174;W. Byron 175-192;R. Blaney 193-200.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Larson 6 times for 70 laps; Chase Elliott 2 times for 68 laps; William Byron 1 time for 18 laps; Kyle Busch 3 times for 13 laps; Denny Hamlin 2 times for 10 laps; Ryan Blaney 1 time for 8 laps; Brad Keselowski 1 time for 6 laps; Christopher Bell 2 times for 3 laps; Austin Dillon 1 time for 2 laps; Matt DiBenedetto 1 time for 1 lap; Kurt Busch 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 9,5,3,11,24,22,21,1,18,2
Stage #2 Top Ten: 18,20,5,9,11,3,2,8,24,21

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, August 23 2021
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