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Ryan Blaney stands next to the winner’s trophy after the NASCAR Cup Series car race at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, August 22, 2021, in Brooklyn, Michigan (AP Photo / Carlos Osorio)

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Ryan Blaney’s winning shot at Michigan was not an assist, but a choice. With William Byron’s first three cars, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson looking relatively even in speed, Blaney took to the inside lane to restart in first row when the last green flag was waved.

A big push from Kyle Busch on his bumper gave Blaney’s No.12 Ford a boost, and he was able to hold the Hendrick car fleet in the final laps on Sunday on the two mile oval in Byron, Michigan. He earned his second victory of the NASCAR Cup season and his first career victory on the track.

“That was cool, man,” Blaney told NBCSN after handing the checkered flag to a fan. “I am lively.”

He only led the last eight laps of the race and credited both the lane choice and Busch with helping him secure the victory. Byron finished second by a hair’s breadth, 0.077 seconds behind the leader. Larson was third.

“We just got better and better,” said Blaney. “I chose a good path on restart and got the boost.”

Several yellow flags were thrown in the last laps to regroup the peloton. With about 20 laps remaining, NASCAR warned of light rain, which moved quickly and forced the leaders to choose to go to the pit. The top 10 drivers stayed on the sidelines with Byron leading Larson and Hamlin into the top three. Those up front managed to get through the next three and four width restarts cleanly, but a major wreckage followed in the middle of the pack.

Tyler Reddick broke away, fell backwards on Joey Logano, who was hit from behind by Martin Truex Jr. to send Logano even further into the field and retrieve several cars. Logano took his car to the garage, while Reddick emerged relatively unscathed from the wreckage and then spun off again when the race resumed with eight laps to go.

Larson and Byron fought for second place, but couldn’t get past Blaney once he was in first place.

“Once you get in the middle of three wide, it’s the end of the game,” said Byron. “I gave up my head trying to protect the top. I just didn’t have the loyalty to somehow push myself in the lead.

Hamlin was fifth behind Kurt Busch in fourth. With a repeat winner, Kevin Harvick clinched a playoff berth while Reddick and Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon continue to battle for a playoff berth.

Early release for Dillon

Dillon was a consistent presence in the top five, finishing third in stage one and sixth in stage 2 before disaster hit the No.3 team hovering over the bubble.

Dillon fought with Brad Keselowski across the green and white checkered flag to close the second leg, with Dillon taking the lead. Within seconds of crossing the line, Dillon ascended as Keselowski descended the track and the cars gathered. Dillon’s Chevrolet has been totaled.

Keselowski immediately declared on the radio that he “didn’t want to destroy it”, but the damage was done.

“I’m an old man, but I can kick his ass”, team owner Richard Childress said on the radio of Team No.3 after the Keselowski incident.

But Dillon, who said he felt it was his best car, also took responsibility for the wreckage.

“I hate it,” Dillon told NBCSN after leaving the health center. “I don’t know why it really happened. I thought I had a bit of room to go up and he just kept me there a little too long I guess.

Heading into the race, Dillon was 28 points behind teammate Reddick on the 16 driver threshold for the playoffs. With Reddick finishing 29th, this gap only seems to have narrowed by a few points.

The last race of the regular season will take place next Sunday in Daytona.

NASCAR Race Results

Order Driver Car number Time behind the leader
1 Ryan blaney 12
2 Guillaume Byron 24 0.077 seconds
3 Kyle larson 5 0.209
4 Kurt busch 1 0.494
5 Denny hamlin 11 0.571
6 Matt DiBenedetto 21 1.088
7 Kyle busch 18 1,198
8 Chase Elliott 9 1.368
9 Brad Keselowski 2 1,567
ten Martin Truex Jr. 19 2,339
11 Chase Briscoe 14 2,499
12 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 47 2,716
13 Christophe bell 20 2.942
14 Kevin harvic 4 3,561
15 Chris Buescher 17 4.14
16 Alex Bowman 48 4.25
17 Aric almirola ten 4.279
18 Erik Jones 43 4.391
19 Bubba wallace 23 4,566
20 Michael mcdowell 34 4.842
21 Ryan precece 37 5.397
22 Daniel Suarez 99 5.919
23 Cole custer 41 5.932
24 Ryan newman 6 8,667
25 Justin haley 77 12,724
26 Josh berry 7 19,774
27 Cody ware 51 -1 turn
28 BJ McLeod 78 -2
29 Tyler reddick 8 -2
30 Quin Houff 0 -4
31 Josh bilicki 52 -5
32 Garrett smithley 53 -6
33 Joey logano 22 -12
34 Anthony Alfredo 38 -22
35 Ross chastain 42 -48
36 Austin dillon 3 -80
37 Joey Gase 15 -171

NASCAR and Charlotte FC reporter Alex Andrejev joined The Observer in January 2020 after an internship at the Washington Post. She played Division I volleyball at Columbia University before earning her masters degree from the University of Southern California.
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