NASCAR Cup Series
Teamwork, Friendship Powers Austin Dillon to Playoffs at Daytona
Aug 28, 2022
Ryan Blaney held on for dear life as everything that could have possibly eliminated him from making the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs presented itself on Sunday at Daytona.
First came the crash on Lap 32 that severely damaged the Team Penske No. 12 and eventually dropped Blaney six laps off the pace … and barely at minimum speed to even reach the finish. That allowed Martin Truex Jr. to begin closing the points gap that would be necessary should there be a new winner by the end of the race.
Understand that both drivers entered the race inside the provisional cutoff but only one of them would advance should a new winner emerge -- so their points battle mattered all day.
Truex started at 25 points back and gained 15 of them over the first two stages before he too was caught up in an incident on Lap 103.
There was another complicating factor that played into their points battle -- the potential of a new winner and there were no shortage of contenders throughout the morning and afternoon.
Then came the massive melee with 23 to go resulting from the leaders driving into a rain storm and crashing a dozen leaders. The beneficiary of that incident was Austin Dillon, a winless driver, who dropped to the apron and simply drove to the lead under everyone.
He had just received a free pass back onto the lead lap.
As they sat through a three-hour, 19-minute rain delay, Truex held a 12-point advantage over Blaney. That did not, however, factor the 10 or so cars that would not finish and permit Blaney to pick up a point for each car he passed.
Truex was too damaged from his incident, likening his car to a parachute by this point, and ultimately losing the final playoff spot by three points once Dillon held onto the win, securing his own playoff berth.
Blaney was relieved and elated.
"I’m going to go home and crack open a beer and relax a little bit because that was a stressful day," Blaney said. " That was a long weekend. No qualifying, not getting in the car, don’t race (Saturday night), wait around after you get wrecked, then you have a three-hour rain delay. Just definitely mentally draining. It will be nice to relax a little bit."
Drink what, pray-tell?
Meanwhile, this is the first time Truex has failed to make the playoffs since 2014, his first season at Furniture Row Racing. The 2017 champion has been a contender ever since between Furniture Row and Joe Gibbs Racing. In fact, he has qualified for the championship race in five of the last seven years.
But it wasn’t meant to be this season, despite finishing the regular season sixth in the championship standings, albeit without a victory.
"It sucks," Truex said. "You race your ass off all year and you work hard and you try to do all the things it takes and to come up three points short is pretty tough to swallow when I know we can do something in the playoffs."
It surely was even more disheartening knowing that he looked poised to make the Field of 16 after Blaney’s crash, and before the massive melee that eliminated several additional previous winners from this season.
Combined with several other incidents throughout the day that eliminated would be repeat winners, the stage was set for what Dillon would go on to accomplish once the race resumed.
For his part, Blaney was in disbelief that he was in that position in the first place. It looked perilous and felt that way, too.
"I cannot believe that happened," Blaney said of his Lap 32 crash. "Weren’t even being aggressive. Just running there and a guy bumps someone too hard and you end up getting tagged. A lot was going on so you just kind of assess your car and go, ‘Man, that sucks.’ Then you just kind of realize it and make the most of it."
Truex started to sink through the field once the race resumed and could do no better than eighth at the checkered flag.
"We had a good spot on the restart and we got a good restart," Truex said. "We got (Austin Cindric) up front, which is what we were trying to do, but just couldn’t keep up. Just too much damage. It’s a shame.
"We knew it was going to be tough with so many cars out of the race and the distance between me and (Blaney). It was going to be hard to hang on to fourth or better with a car that torn up."
Blaney’s car was in no better position but was able to keep the car on the track, and ultimately benefitted from the 25-point advantage he entered the race with.
"It was hurt pretty badly," Blaney said. "We couldn’t keep up with the draft for a while because we just had so much damage. By the time we got five or six laps down you try to stay optimistic about these things.
"It’s easy to kind of get down on it and you just try to stay positive. Luckily, that positivity worked out for us, but definitely not an ideal start to the day. Luckily, all of our hard work by staying in it paid off at the end."