NASCAR Cup Series
Never Give Up: Christopher Bell Locks Into Championship 4 With Win at Homestead
Oct 22, 2023
While it felt like Ryan Blaney was a pinball at times in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series 4EVER 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang put in a solid runner-up effort, which has him on the cusp of his first career Championship 4 appearance.
It looked like Blaney had the car to win in the second half of the race, but with the final run of the race only consisting of 25 laps, it limited the effectiveness of Blaney's long-run speed.
"Yeah, I just couldn't go for 10 laps or so, and those guys got better," Blaney explained. "I think it hurt us a little bit, the track cooling off, and guys cars lasting longer. We were better when it was a little bit lower grip. I just couldn't maintain the lead or second, and by the time we kind of got going, and people's stuff was falling off, it was just too late."
Sure, it wasn't a win, but the effort of Blaney and the No. 12 Team Penske team throughout the entire race flipped the script on their outlook in the Round of 8 of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
"Overall, proud of the Menards Duracell Ford Mustang team. Really, really strong piece. Just got beat a little bit there at the end, but proud of the effort."
Blaney, who entered the day 17 points behind the Playoff cutline, heads into the penultimate race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season 10 points above the cutline. It was quite the rally, and it was all made possible due to the accumulation of Stage Points throughout the entire event.
Blaney started the race from the 10th position in the 36-car field, and over the course of an ultra-clean opening Stage, he worked his way up to third by the end of Stage 1, which secured him eight valuable points in his championship quest.
In Stage 2, Blaney again impressed, as he flashed excellent long-run speed on his path to snagging the lead from Kyle Larson with just six laps remaining in the Stage. Blaney would roll to the Stage 2 win and would pile on an additional 10 championship points.
It was at this point that it appeared Blaney would be the driver to beat for the remainder of the day. But there's a reason that they run the rest of the race instead of handing out the trophy early.
While heading to pit road from the lead, ahead of Kyle Larson, the unthinkable happened.
Larson seemingly misjudged the speed that he was carrying onto pit road, and when he noticed the closing rate on Blaney was too intense, he attempted to swerve away from the No. 12 Ford.
The swerve wasn't quick enough, and Larson slammed into the rear of Blaney's car on his path to crashing into the sand barrels.
While Blaney's day wasn't done, it was not an ideal incident.
With 38 laps remaining, Blaney found himself locked in a battle with Denny Hamlin for the race lead on a late-race restart. Hamlin side-drafting Blaney, and then sliding up the track caused eventual race-winner Christopher Bell to take the lead, and sent both Blaney and Hamlin fading to the back half of the top five.
As Blaney was attempting to mount a challenge back through the top five in the closing laps of the race, he encountered another spirited battle with Denny Hamlin for position.
The two would make contact a few times, and at the end of the battle, Hamlin would slide up the track again, which nearly sent Blaney into the outside wall.
After taking the position away from Blaney, Hamlin experienced a steering failure and went hard into the outside wall. That was the end of Hamlin's day, but it wasn't the end of Blaney's frustrations with the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry.
However, the frustration may subside for the 29-year-old after it sinks in that he is now 10 points above the cutline, and heading into one of his better tracks -- Martinsville Speedway.
In 15 career starts at the half-mile paperclip, Blaney has amassed seven top-five finishes and nine top-10s. And while the career totals are solid, the performance he's shown in recent history at the track is even more impressive.
Blaney's worst finish over his last nine starts at the short track in Virginia is 11th, and he has scored six of his seven career top-fives, including two runner-up finishes, over that span.
While it has to have felt like a roller coaster ride through the Round of 8 for Blaney, the confidence has to be at an all-time high for the driver heading into the final elimination event of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Photo Credit: Craig White, Racing America