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Ryan Blaney wins crash-marred race at Daytona

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Ryan Blaney took the lead on a restart in overtime and went on to win Saturday night’s crash-filled Coke Zero Sugar 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

The victory was the second consecutive for Blaney as the Team Penske driver won a week ago at Michigan International Speedway.

“Man, it’s been a fun two weeks,” said Blaney, who now has three victories on the season.

He was in the lead on the final lap of OT when a big wreck exploded behind him, handing him the victory.

But it was help from behind on the restart which powered him to the win.

“The biggest thing was just getting the push, right,” Blaney said. “I was just trying to get a good push. Corey LaJoie gave me a good push. Two weeks in a row I got really good pushes on restarts. It really all started with the 7 (LaJoie) giving me a good push to get me up front.”

Chris Buescher, who restarted in OT with the lead and needed a victory to earn a berth in the 16-driver, 10-race playoffs, finished second. Instead, Tyler Reddick of Richard Childress Racing secured the final berth in the playoffs, finishing sixth.

The playoffs begin next weekend at Darlington Raceway.

Third was Bubba Wallace with the 23XI team. It was Wallace and team’s best finish of the season.

Ryan Newman and Ryan Preece rounded out the top five.

It could turn out that the biggest positive for Blaney is momentum heading into the playoffs.

“It’s huge,” said Blaney, whose win was his first at historic DIS. “Momentum is what everything is all about. Confidence is key and we came into this weekend very confident after last week with our heads held high. They’ll be a little bit higher this week, so I look forward to getting to Darlington. It’s a great way to end the regular season, but we’ve still got work to do. We’ve got 10 weeks of work to do and I’ll look forward to them.”

When he was involved in a big wreck with 15 laps to go – a wreck which resulted in smoke billowing out of his car – Reddick appeared to be headed for the garage and doomed in his bid to earn the final berth.

But during the resulting caution, his RCR team went to work, mopped up the source of the smoke and sent Reddick back out on to the track for the final 10 laps. The car held together, allowing Reddick to grab the final berth.

“Playoffs, here we come,” Reddick gushed on his radio to his crew after crossing the finish line.

His teammate, Austin Dillon, who started 17th in points – 25 behind Reddick – ran into a series of problems late in the race. He was issued a penalty with just under 20 laps to go and then had electrical system problems which required another pit stop to change his battery.

Hopes for Dillon died when he was involved on the final-lap wreck while running near the front.

Reddick was left a bit exhausted but relieved by events.

“I don’t know how to smile at this point, it was a lot tonight,” Reddick said. “I’m excited to be past it.”

Dillon was left philosophical.

“We gave it all we could and fought until the end,” he said. “We’ll finish hard this year and build on next year.”

Kyle Larson of Hendrick Motorsports finished 21st to claim the regular season championship. He was asked if he was surprised to win that championship in his first year with Hendrick after getting fired during the 2020 season by Chip Ganassi Racing.

“I honestly thought we would get off to a slower start than we did but I felt like we could string together some good runs,” said Larson, a five-time winner in 2021.

Thirteen drivers started the race who needed to win to get in. None could.

The starting field for the playoffs will consist of Larson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Blaney, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell, Aric Almirola and Reddick.

Pole-sitter Larson was sent to the rear of the field for the start of the race after multiple pre-race inspection failures. Also sent to the rear were Kaz Grala, Joey Gase, McDowell and Anthony Alfredo.

McDowell, who was the winner of the Daytona 500 at DIS in February and as a result is locked into the playoffs, blew an engine 24 laps in.

“I felt like it was really racy, McDowell said of his car. “I was being pretty conservative and then under the caution I just lost oil pressure.”

–Field Level Media

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