Blaney steals the show with a late victory at Michigan

The outside lane at Michigan International Speedway was the preferred lane for many at Michigan International Speedway, but the inside lane prevailed at the right time for Ryan Blaney. The High Point, North Carolina, native received a push from Kyle Busch to overtake and beat William Byron in an eight-lap dash to win the FireKeepers Casino 400 at the Irish Hills on Sunday, August 22.

The victory was Blaney’s second of the season and his first since winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March.

The starting lineup was based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Cup event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Cup race. With that, Kyle Larson, the regular-season points leader, started on pole position and was joined on the front row with teammate Chase Elliott.

Prior to the event, Josh Berry and Joey Gase started at the rear of the field due to driver changes from their respective machines.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, teammates Larson and Elliott dueled dead even until Ryan Blaney issued a challenge on the inside lane through the first turn. Through the backstretch, however, Larson was able to pull ahead on the outside lane as he went on to lead the first lap ahead of Matt DiBenedetto.

Meanwhile, Kurt Busch powered his way into third while Elliott was challenged by Kevin Harvick for fourth place. Behind, Ryan Blaney slipped back into the top 10 as Alex Bowman, Denny Hamlin and others moved up the leaderboard.

On the third lap, DiBenedetto, who challenged Larson for the lead early, led the third lap before Larson took it back. Through the backstretch and entering Turn 4, Kurt Busch then moved into the runner-up spot over DiBenedetto as Elliott started to reel in the leaders. Just behind the top-four competitors were Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, both of whom were battling for a top-five spot ahead of Alex Bowman.

Through the first five laps, Larson continued to lead by nearly two-tenths of a second over Kurt Busch. Meanwhile, Martin Truex Jr. was mired back in 33rd after he sustained left-rear quarterpanel damage to his No. 19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota Camry.

By Lap 10, Larson’s No. 5 Cincinnati Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE was leading by nearly four-tenths of a second over Kurt Busch’s No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE while DiBenedetto, Elliott and Hamlin were in the top five. Harvick was in sixth followed by Bowman, Tyler Reddick, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch. William Byron was in 11th ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Blaney was back in 13th ahead of Chris Buescher and Erik Jones, who announced his return to Richard Petty Motorsports for the 2022 season. Ryan Newman was in 16th ahead of rookie Chase Briscoe, Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon and Christopher Bell. Aric Almirola was in 21st ahead of Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez, Michael McDowell was in 24th, Bubba Wallace was in 26th and Cole Custer was in 29th. 

When the competition caution flew on Lap 20, Larson, who has led all but one of the scheduled laps, was the leader by nearly half a second over Kurt Busch. By then, Byron moved into the top 10 while Blaney and Harvick fell back to 12th and 16th. Truex, meanwhile, was still mired in 33rd.

Under the competition caution, the leaders pitted and Hamlin emerged with the lead after only opting for fuel under his first pit stop. Larson, who elected for a two-tire pit stop, exited in second followed by Kurt Busch, Elliott, Bowman and Reddick.

When the race restarted on Lap 25, Hamlin, who restarted on the outside lane, received a push from Larson to muscled away from Elliott, who elected to restart on the inside lane on the front row. Elliott, though, was able to settle in the runner-up spot ahead of teammate Larson through the backstretch.

Two laps later, Elliott thundered his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE into the lead over Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry. Behind, Kurt Busch overtook Larson for fourth while Reddick settled in fifth.

The following lap, Kurt Busch drag-raced and battled Hamlin for the runner-up spot, but Hamlin managed to prevail on the outside lane through the first two turns. Behind, Joey Logano challenged Larson for fourth, but he lost his momentum in Turn 4 and fell back to sixth ahead of Byron and Bowman.

Through the first 30 laps of the event, Elliott was leading by nearly four-tenths of a second over Hamlin while Larson, Kurt Busch and Reddick battled in the top five. Byron moved up to sixth ahead of Logano, Bowman, DiBenedetto and Austin Dillon.

Shortly after, the caution flew when Joey Gase wrecked in Turn 2. Under caution, few like Daniel Suarez pitted while the rest led by Elliott remained on the track.

When the race restarted on Lap 35, Elliott and Kurt Busch battled dead even for the lead through the first turn and the backstretch until Elliott managed to pull ahead in Turn 3. Behind, Hamlin, who received a push from Logano through Turn 4, moved up to second while Logano moved his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang in front of Kurt Busch for third the following lap. The next lap after, Larson overtook Kurt Busch for fourth in Turn 3 while Austin Dillon, a competitor battling for a Playoff spot and who opted for four fresh tires under the competition caution, challenged Busch for fifth. 

Nearing the first 40 laps of the event and with the field jostling for positions, Elliott was leading by three-tenths of a second over Hamlin and Logano. Larson and Austin Dillon were in the top five followed by Kurt Busch, DiBenedetto, Blaney, Byron and Brad Keselowski. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch, Harvick and Truex were in 12th, 13th and 16th while Tyler Reddick was back in 15th.

With the race surpassing the Lap 50 mark, Elliott was leading by half a second over Austin Dillon. Hamlin, Logano and Larson were in the top five followed by Byron and DiBenedetto while Kurt Busch fell back to eighth ahead of brother Kyle and Blaney.

Back at the front, Austin Dillon and Larson started to reel in on Elliott for the lead. Despite the challenge, though, Elliott was able to maintain the lead and claim his second stage victory of the season by winning the first stage on Lap 60. Behind, Larson managed to edge Dillon at the line to settle in second while Hamlin held off Byron to retain fourth. Logano, DiBenedetto, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Keselowski settled in the top 10.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Larson exited with the lead following a stellar four-tire pit stop. Elliott followed in second ahead of Austin Dillon, Suarez (who opted for two fresh tires), Logano and Kyle Busch while Hamlin, who pitted from fourth place, fell back to 10th. Prior to the restart, Logano returned to pit road to have the lug nuts on his car tightened.

The second stage started on Lap 66 as Larson and Austin Dillon started on the front row. At the start, Larson and Dillon battled dead even for the lead for a full lap until Larson prevailed on the outside lane through Turn 1. With Larson clear in the lead, teammate Elliott moved up to second over Dillon, who was being challenged by DiBenedetto for more.

Behind, contact from DiBenedetto got Kurt Busch loose in Turn 3. While Busch prevented the car from spinning, he fell out of the top 10 and was mired near the midfield and around a bevy of cars. At the front, though, Larson continued to lead ahead of teammate Elliott, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch and Suarez.

By Lap 75, a three-way battle for the lead ensued as Larson, the leader, was pressured by Austin Dillon and Elliott for the top spot, all three of whom were separated by approximately three-tenths of a second. Kyle Busch was up in fourth followed by DiBenedetto, Keselowski, Christopher Bell, Hamlin, Bubba Wallace and Harvick.

Five laps later, Elliott motored his way back into the lead.

At the halfway mark on Lap 100, Elliott continued to lead by a narrow margin over teammate Larson. Austin Dillon settled in third ahead of Kyle Busch and Bell while Hamlin was in sixth. DiBenedetto, Byron, Keselowski and Blaney were in the top 10.

Not long after, pit stops under green commenced as names like Harvick, Byron, Stenhouse, rookie Chase Briscoe and Bowman pitted. By Lap 110, Larson surrendered the lead to pit. The following lap, Elliott also pitted. A few laps later, Kyle Busch and Hamlin pitted, but Hamlin slid past his pit box while trying to enter his stall. During the pit stops, Ross Chastain took his car to the garage due to a fire in the rear end of his No. 42 Moose Fraternity Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.

Back on the track and with the green flag pit stops concluding, Kyle Busch, who pitted three and four laps later than Larson and Elliott, cycled to the lead. Bell was in second while Larson and Elliott closed in and challenged Hamlin for third.

Utilizing his pit strategy to perfection, Kyle Busch cruised to his fifth stage victory of the season after winning the second stage on Lap 120. Teammate Bell settled in second followed by Larson, Elliott and Hamlin. Behind, Austin Dillon nipped Keselowski for sixth, but then, Dillon’s strong day evaporated after contact from Keselowski sent Dillon head-on into the Turn 4 outside wall, where his car nearly flipped, before coming to a rest below the apron. The damage to the No. 3 Chevrolet was enough to terminate Dillon’s run for the day and put a huge dent to his Playoff hopes, though he will have a final opportunity to make the postseason next weekend at Daytona International Speedway. 

“I was just trying to get as many stage points as I could get right there and did a good job of side-drafting and came down to the apron and I’ve seen just one quick replay, but it was after the start/finish line,” Dillon said at the infield care center on NBCSN. “I was starting to come up off the apron because it’s so rough down there. But I figured by that point, [Keselowski] would have given me a little room. I hate it. I’m thankful that the good Lord kept me safe today. That was a heck of a wreck, but I feel fine.

“I hate it for BREZTRI and my guys, most of all. They built a rocket ship. They really wanted this one, and I did too. Just working our tails off right there. I think we would have had a shot to do something there at the end with our race car. It’s the best race car we’ve brought to the track at [Richard Childress Racing] this year, I feel like. It’s just a bummer but we’ve got Daytona left and I just hate it. I don’t know why it happened, really. I thought I had a little room to come up and he just held me down there a little bit too long, I guess.”

In the midst of the incident, Reddick, Byron and DiBenedetto rounded out the top-10 stage points positions in the second stage.

Under the stage break, names like Kyle Busch, Wallace, Elliott, Hamlin, Bell and Erik Jones pitted while the rest led by Larson remained on the track.

With 74 laps remaining, the final stage started as Larson and Kurt Busch started on the front row. At the start, Larson and Kurt Busch battled dead even for the lead for a full lap, where Busch led for the first time before Larson received a push from teammate Byron to grab the lead through the first two turns. Behind, Byron motored his No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE into the runner-up spot while Busch fell back to third ahead of Blaney, DiBenedetto and Truex.

With 60 laps remaining, Larson was leading by a tenth of a second over teammate Byron while Kurt Busch, Blaney and Bowman were in the top five. Truex, following his early issues, was up in sixth ahead of teammate Hamlin, DiBenedetto, Logano and Reddick. Kyle Busch was mired back in 11th, Elliott was in 14th ahead of Harvick, Keselowski was back in 18th and Bell was in 21st.

Down to the final 50 laps of the event and with overcast clouds hovering above the track, Larson continued to lead by nearly four-tenths of a second over teammate Byron. Kurt Busch and Blaney remained in third and fourth while Truex was up in fifth ahead of teammate Hamlin, Bowman and Logano.

Nearing the final 40 laps of the event, names like Elliott, Byron, Bowman and Blaney pitted under green. During this time, Larson, who ran out of fuel, pitted along with Kurt Busch, but he was overtaken by teammate Byron on the track.

Under the final 40 laps, Hamlin emerged with the lead followed by teammate Truex while Logano, Kyle Busch and Reddick were in the top five. Not long after, Logano pitted along with Harvick and Truex.

With 35 laps remaining, Hamlin pitted as teammate Kyle Busch took the lead. Following Hamlin’s pit service, teammates Byron and Larson managed to overtake him on the track. Three laps later, Kyle Busch pitted along with Elliott, thus giving the lead to Keselowski as Chris Buescher was in second and Bell was in third, all of whom were among some who needed to pit.

With 20 laps remaining, the caution flew due to precipitation reported on the track. Five laps earlier, Byron emerged with the lead after Keselowski and Bell pitted, thus completing the cycle of green-flag pit stops. Teammate Larson moved up to second followed by Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Blaney.

Under caution, some led by Keselowski pitted while the rest led by Byron remained on the track.

Down to the final 14 laps of the event, the race restarted under green as Byron and Kurt Busch started on the front row. At the start, the field stacked up past the start/finish line, but Byron received a push from teammate Larson to retain the lead through the first turn. 

As the field fanned out through the backstretch, Hamlin aggressively charged his way into the runner-up spot over Larson while Reddick made a bold four-wide move on Logano, Kurt Busch and Blaney entering Turn 3 in a bid to gain spots towards his Playoff hopes. Then, through Turns 3 and 4, Reddick slowly drifted up the track and got loose in front of Logano, who got sideways and turned by Truex. The spin by Logano ignited a chain-reaction wreck that involved Bell, Josh Berry, McDowell and Ryan Newman. The incident drew the caution back on the circuit. 

With eight laps remaining, the race restarted. At the start and with the leaders battling dead even, Blaney, who restarted as the first competitor on the inside lane, received a huge shove from Kyle Busch to assume the lead in the first turn ahead of Byron as the field fanned out.

A lap later, Reddick spun in Turn 3, but the race remained under green. Back at the front, Blaney continued to lead by a narrow margin over Byron, Larson and Kurt Busch. Behind, Briscoe overtook Hamlin for fifth. 

Down to the final five laps of the event, the top-seven competitors were separated by half a second as Blaney, the leader, had Larson closing in on his rear bumper through the first two turns along with Byron, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Briscoe and DiBenedetto. 

A lap later, Kurt Busch, who challenged Byron for third, wiggled in Turn 2 and lost his momentum before he was hit by Briscoe. Despite the contact, all competitors continued straight. A turn later, DiBenedetto shoved Hamlin out of the way on the inside lane, which sent Hamlin up the track in front of Briscoe, all of whom continued without wrecking.

Back at the front, Larson issued a challenge beneath Blaney, but he could not carry the momentum in Turn 1. Two turns later, Byron passed teammate Larson for the runner-up spot as he started to intimidate Blaney for the lead.

When the white flag waved and the final lap of the race occurred, Blaney was still leading ahead of Byron and Larson, both of whom were setting up a final challenge on Blaney for the top spot. Through the first turn and the backstretch, Byron gained a draft but was unable to execute a dive run on Blaney entering Turn 3. Through Turns 3 and 4, Byron tried another move from the outside lane, but the run came too late as Blaney edged Byron by 0.077 seconds to capture his first victory in the Irish Hills and in an upset fashion.

In addition to capturing his second victory of the season and first at Michigan, Blaney achieved his sixth win in the NASCAR Cup Series and his first multi-victory season in the Cup circuit. He also recorded the seventh consecutive Cup victory for the Ford nameplate at Michigan.

“We got a great push by [Kyle Busch] on the restart and was able to get clear there,” Blaney, who led the final eight laps, said on NBCSN. “Michigan’s a matter of pretty much wide open and just trying to play the air game. I hate you have to race that way, but that’s how you have to run. It worked out for us. Man, I’m proud of everybody on the No. 12 team. We weren’t great to start the day off and yeah, kept working and working, got a lot better. It’s so cool to get in Victory Lane for Ford here. This is such a huge one for Ford. That was cool, man. I’m fired up.”

Behind, Byron, who led 18 laps, settled in the runner-up spot while Larson, who led a race-high 71 laps and was aiming for his fourth victory at Michigan, ended up in third.

“[Hamlin] tried to shove us into [Turn] 1 and I had to stay with him to not sacrifice my right rear,” Byron said. “Once you get put three-wide middle, it’s game over. I gave up the lead trying to protect the top [lane] and just didn’t have the loyalty there to push me to the lead. Overall, a really good car. The AXALTA Chevrolet was extremely fast. Definitely, I know we can bring that to the Playoffs. It stinks to finish second, but I feel like we had a really good car to go to battle with.

“Yeah, the restart worked out a little better than I thought it was going to for me,” Larson said. “[Hamlin] tried to stick [Byron] three-wide. They got loose. I got to the middle. I think came out third or something there. Was able to get to second. Just made a couple bad moves, I guess. I think honestly just a little too patient behind [Blaney]. Could have made some later, you know, dives I guess to the inside. Who knows. I need to watch the replay.

“Just made a couple wrong moves, 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]. Ended up third. A good points day. Wish we could have had more, but all in all a good day for the Cincinnati Chevy.”

Kurt Busch came home in fourth ahead of Hamlin while DiBenedetto, Kyle Busch, Elliott, Keselowski and Truex finished in the top 10.

Despite finishing 14th, Kevin Harvick clinched his spot into the Playoffs based on points.

There were 20 lead changes for 11 different leaders. The race six featured cautions for 29 laps.

With one race remaining until the 2021 Cup Playoffs commences, Larson continues to lead the regular-season standings by 28 points over Denny Hamlin. Currently, 13 competitors (Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell, Aric Almirola and Michael McDowell) are guaranteed Playoff spots based on winning at least once throughout the regular season.

Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are also guaranteed spots in the Playoffs based on points.

Tyler Reddick, meanwhile, occupies the 16th and final berth to the Playoffs by 25 points over teammate Austin Dillon, with Matt DiBenedetto trailing by 120 points, Chris Buescher by 135, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by 173, Ross Chastain by 185, Bubba Wallace by 195, Chase Briscoe by 227, Erik Jones by 250, Daniel Suarez by 254, Ryan Newman by 271, Ryan Preece by 279, Cole Custer by 295, Corey LaJoie by 370 and Anthony Alfredo by 440.

Results:

1. Ryan Blaney, eight laps led

2. William Byron, 18 laps led

3. Kyle Larson, 71 laps led

4. Kurt Busch, one lap led

5. Denny Hamlin, 10 laps led

6. Matt DiBenedetto, one lap led

7. Kyle Busch, 13 laps led, Stage 2 winner

8. Chase Elliott, 68 laps led, Stage 1 winner

9. Brad Keselowski, six laps led

10. Martin Truex Jr.

11. Chase Briscoe 

12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

13. Christopher Bell

14. Kevin Harvick

15. Chris Buescher

16. Alex Bowman

17. Aric Almirola

18. Erik Jones

19. Bubba Wallace

20. Michael McDowell

21. Ryan Preece

22. Daniel Suarez

23. Cole Custer

24. Ryan Newman

25. Justin Haley

26. Josh Berry

27. Cody Ware, one lap down

28. BJ McLeod, two laps down

29. Tyler Reddick, two laps down

30. Quin Houff, four laps down

31. Josh Bilicki, five laps down

32. Garrett Smithley, six laps down

33. Joey Logano – OUT, Dvp

34. Anthony Alfredo, 22 laps down

35. Ross Chastain, 48 laps down

36. Austin Dillon – OUT, Accident

37. Joey Gase – OUT, Accident

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season will cap off its regular-season stretch next weekend at Daytona International Speedway for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 and where the 16-car Playoff field will be determined. The event is scheduled to occur on Sunday, August 28, at 7 p.m. ET on NBC. 



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

Andrew Kim
An avid motorsports enthusiast from California with aspirations of working in any form of communications, PR or digital/social media in motorsports.

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