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Ryan Blaney Extends Ford’s Michigan Victory Streak

All Ryan Blaney needed was eight laps to win at Michigan. (Photo: Logan Riely | Getty Images).

No longer a one-time winner per year is Ryan Blaney, who won Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The key to victory was certainly thanks to Kyle Busch, who gave him a great push on the final restart.

From there, it was up to Blaney to hold off the competition which included Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron and Kyle Larson. Mission was accomplished as Blaney brought another victory for Ford in their backyard.

After years of just being a guy that wins once a year, an exhausted Ryan Blaney doesn’t have to worry any longer. More so that his greatest chance of winning was ending up on the front row.

“We were going to be fourth and the front row was open. You have to take the front row,” said Blaney. “It gave us a shot to win the race and Kyle (Busch) gave us a really good push to get us clear into turn one and then I was playing defense. We were wide open.

“Especially with Larson and William laying back and trying to get runs. That made it tough. It was cool to persevere all day. We didn’t start off very good, but we worked on it all day and found ourselves in a spot to capitalize on it at the end and did that. A very cool day and nice to be in victory lane here in Michigan.”

On the site of Todd Gordon’s first Cup win as a crew chief in 2013, he’ll leave Michigan for the final time as a winner.

“Great to win my last race here as a crew chief,” said Gordon. “But I hope we got more to go.”

No Heritage Trophy for Hendrick

Ford has put on a stranglehold at Michigan in recent years. Chevrolet tried but unable to snap their dominance despite being the stronger manufacturer. Leading the “Bowtie Brigade” was Byron, who scored his ninth top-five of the season.

The race felt like a sneak peak of Daytona due to the cars being close together. Byron explained had Denny Hamlin stuck with him, the outcome would’ve been different.

“(Denny) tried to shuck us into one. I had to stay with him to not sacrifice my right rear. Once you get put three-wide middle, it’s game over,” said Byron. “I gave up the lead trying to protect the top. Just didn’t have the loyalty there to kind of push me to the lead.”

“Overall, really good car. The No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet was extremely fast. Definitely know we can bring that to the Playoffs. Stinks to finish second but feel like we had a really good car to go to battle with.”

For a good portion of the race, Larson was again strong. Just unable to score the victory this time around. Instead, he rounded out the top-three for his series-leading 14th top-five of 2021.

Like Byron, Larson knew Hamlin’s moves hurt the team’s chances of winning, but it was more than just Hamlin. In his eyes, Larson’s bid of a sixth win was dashed after a few wrong moves.

“I allowed William to get by me. Once I was in third, I hoped they would get racing, get side drafted. I was never close enough to William to help him generate a run on (Blaney),” said Larson. “Ended up third. A good points day. Wish we could have had more.”

Larson led a race-high 70 of 200 laps (Photo: Logan Riely | Getty Images).

Stage One

Larson led the 37-car field to the green, but Matt DiBenedetto showcased a sense of urgency after pushing Larson to the point. A man who doesn’t have a ride in 2022 needed to win to make the playoffs.

Two laps later, DiBenedetto briefly gave Larson a run for his money which also inserted Kurt Busch into the mix. In the end, Larson still won the race-lead frenzy.

Further back we saw Martin Truex, Jr. and Blaney dramatically waned in the running order. Truex reported of having a “wicked loose” Toyota as he mired back outside the top-30. To make matters worse, his left rear quarter panel was damaged after Kyle Busch ran into him on the backstretch.

Fortunately, a competition caution on Lap 20 gave him a break from the downturn. Truex bounced back to finish 13th in the stage. Chase Elliott ended up taking control of the stage by scoring a playoff point after fending off Larson.

Stage 1 Results: Elliott, Larson, A. Dillon, Hamlin, Byron, Logano, DiBenedetto, Ku. Busch, Ky. Busch and Keselowski

Stage Two

Larson and Austin Dillon would set the tone for the next 60 laps. Like DiBenedetto, Dillon is trying to make the postseason.

A win could benefit the 2018 Daytona 500 champ, but he had a mirror full of Hendrick cars and DiBenedetto. The latter tried going low to take the top spot, but it was again Larson who took top honors.

Not long after, Kurt Busch reported having left rear damage which explained him dropping down the race order.

Dillon and Elliott really made it tough on Larson for the top spot with Dillon really giving it his all. Didn’t matter which lane or draft cutting Dillon made, Larson was still leading the fray. That was until Elliott made the bottom-line work on Lap 80.

The Hendrick duo would stay locked in those positions and close together until green flag pit stops. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell would later catch the top-two, but unable to pass them beforehand.

After Larson and Elliott traded spots, it was the JGR show with Kyle Busch in first. All thanks to the No. 18 team going for two tires instead of four like the Hendrick cars did. Denny Hamlin tried hard to beat Larson to cap off a 1-2-3 stage, but it wasn’t meant to be. Elliott would clear Hamlin for the fourth spot, knocking Hamlin down to fifth.

Either way, it was a superb conclusion for the team as Kyle won the second stage but that wasn’t the focal point.

Game Changing Crash Eliminates Dillon

Just after eking out Brad Keselowski for sixth, Dillon was turned and sent hard into the frontstretch wall.

Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet lifted and nearly went upside down as his afternoon was done. Keselowski felt gutted immediately after the accident, saying the following over the radio:

“Aw man, I didn’t want to do that! Ugh! I didn’t want to wreck him but follow him down. I’m sorry about that.”

Entering the race, Dillon trailed teammate Tyler Reddick for the 16th and final spot by 28 points. The incident alone changed the playoff picture as he’ll have to win at Daytona to assure himself another postseason berth.

“I was just trying to get as many stage points as I could get. Did a good job side drafting but we started to come up off the apron because it was so rough. But I thought he would give me a little bit of room. The good lord kept me safe,” Dillon on the crash.

“The car was a rocket ship and worked our tails off. Best car we brought to the track this year. It’s just a bummer.”

The shunt relegated Dillon to a gut punching 36th out of the 37-car field.

Stage 2 Results: Ky. Busch, Bell, Larson, Elliott, Hamlin, A. Dillon, Keselowski, Reddick, Byron and DiBenedetto

Dillon trails Reddick for the potential final playoff spot by 25 points (Photo: Sean Gardner | Getty Images).

Stage Three

Same song and dance at the front of the field with Larson in command. However, Byron was now in the mix as he was the one trying to catch his teammate.

The final set of green flag stops would unfold before 40 to go where Byron dealt with traffic and Larson running out of fuel. Due to this, Larson pitted on Lap 160 and while his fuel gauge was on E, a 12-plus second pit stop didn’t hurt.

Traffic be damned for Byron as he successfully got by Larson for the top spot among those who’ve pitted. Once cycle of stops was completed, Byron was now the race leader.

Among those not in the winning battle was Kyle Busch, who nearly slid past his pit stall. It cost him seconds for pulling back to be served and avoided a one-lap penalty.

With the race winding down, the greatest challenger wasn’t the competition but weather. The skies began getting darker and the intensity rose. Especially among the top-four guys of Byron Larson, Hamlin and Kurt Busch.

Rain won the initial battle with 21 to go, bringing out the fifth caution of the afternoon. On the bright side, it was a light shower that didn’t warrant an 11th red flag of the year. In fact, the race would resume with 14 to go.

Wild Closing Laps

Byron and Kurt Busch were the front row for the restart. Thanks to Larson’s push, Byron cleared Kurt for first. The rest of the field battled very hard with Tyler Reddick going four-wide for a top-five spot.

It backfired when Joey Logano ran into him, bunching up the field. Truex would then turn Logano, ultimately creating a multi-car crash in Turn 4.

Logano’s right front suspension was broken, and Bell’s front of his No. 20 Toyota was damaged. Other drivers involved were Ryan Newman, Michael McDowell and Josh Berry.

Berry was making his second Cup start and his third race this weekend. This was a result of Corey LaJoie unable to compete due to COVID-19 protocols, landing Berry the ride.

Due to the carnage, it certainly hurt Berry’s afternoon with Spire Motorsports but not out of the race. The late model and Xfinity Series standout crossed the line in 26th.

Meanwhile, there were eight laps to settle the score as Byron now had Ryan Blaney on his inside for the restart. Kyle Busch pushed Ryan Blaney ahead of Byron for the lead, a total game changer.

Reddick and Daniel Suarez tangled on the backstretch, resulting Reddick to spin but no caution. Thus, the frenzy shifted back towards the lead pack that Blaney was still leading.

Kurt Busch got sideways and a heavy bump from Chase Briscoe. Seconds later, DiBenedetto would aggressively take fourth, but it’s nowhere ear enough to help his playoff hopes and finished sixth.

Ryan Blaney then faced pressure from Byron and Larson in the final three laps, but still held onto first.

The win marked Ryan Blaney’s sixth career win and the seventh straight win for Ford at Michigan.

That second win of 2021 feeling for Ryan Blaney. (Photo: Sean Gardner | Getty Images).

Big Picture Ahead

With only a single race left in the regular season, a lot is on the line next Saturday. For both Ryan Blaney and Gordon, their mindset is focusing on not just Daytona but Darlington as well.

“The biggest thing we can do is try to control what we can control,” Blaney told The Podium Finish. “Try to get as many stage points as we can, try to get a win, just try to finish that thing and get a good starting spot for Darlington.

“Good momentum, just try to survive all day at Daytona. Just try to rise to the occasion at the end because it benefits you next week, too, to start the Playoffs.”

Gordon added that the action seen at Michigan was a warmup for Daytona and agreed that momentum is key.

“Coming out of Daytona with a good finish is going to have a lot of impact on Darlington. Pretty important race for us. We’ll do everything we can,” said Gordon. “We’ve been strong at speedways. Look forward to the opportunity there, trying to get ourselves to continue this momentum in the Playoffs.”

It doesn’t get any bigger than the Cup Series hit Daytona for the Coke Zero Sugar 400. A wild race that’ll come down to the bitter end with race coverage beginning Saturday at 7pm ET on NBC.

Final Top 10 Results: Blaney, Byron, Larson, Ku. Busch, Hamlin, DiBenedetto, Ky. Busch, Elliott, Keselowski and Truex Jr.

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR and INDYCAR. Content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going. On the side, I also do sports production ranging from Seattle Kraken hockey to the 2023 NCAA Women's March Madness. All for the love of the game. With four National Motorsports Press Association photography awards, I'm not slowing down anytime soon. Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to HAIM. At times, there might be some Paul Thomas Anderson and Southern California references in my social media.

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