Blaney takes lead on final restart, holds on to win Michigan

National Sports

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

BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — Ryan Blaney needed a push to pass William Byron on Sunday.

Kyle Busch provided the boost.

With Busch’s help, Blaney took the lead on the final restart, then bobbed and weaved his way around Michigan International Speedway to beat Byron by 0.077 seconds. It was the narrowest victory margin in a Cup race at this track since electronic scoring began.

“I wouldn’t say we had the best car,” Blaney said. “We got pretty good, to a point where I thought we could run fourth or fifth and it just worked out to where he could give us a push and it just worked out.”

Blaney won for the second time this season and sixth overall, capping a big weekend for Team Penske, which won Saturday’s IndyCar race in suburban St. Louis and then this victory, not far from Roger Penske’s Detroit roots. Ford also has won seven straight at Michigan.

This one was unexpected.

With no practice and no qualifying race on a speedway race organizers added resin to the top of the track, Blaney started third and quickly found himself off the pace of Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliot, Larson and Byron.

Instead, Blaney kept his cool in the heat as his crew fine-tuned the No. 12 Ford. Blaney took care of the rest, methodically working way toward the front.

But Elliott lost track position after stalling in the pits and two late yellows bunched the field together, suddenly putting Blaney in the top five.

When the top three cars took the outside lane on the final restart, Blaney chose the inside lane next to Byron and in front of Busch.

His decision — and Busch’s push — changed the complexion of the race.

“It was fun, kind of like a superspeedway race,” Byron said. “Unfortunately, he ran the bottom. You can only block so many lanes and I tried to block the top and cost myself the lead.”

Larson and Byron took turns over the final seven laps trying to give one another a shot to pass Blaney. Nothing worked.

“Just made a couple of bad moves, I guess,” Larson said. “A little too impatient behind the No. 12 and allowed William to get by me and then I was hoping they would get racing and I could get side-drafting.”

And Blaney sped across the finish line barely ahead of Byron.

“Really the push was the whole thing,” Blaney said. “So thanks, Kyle.”

Blaney also ended Kevin Harvick’s winning streak at Michigan at three. But the consolation prize wasn’t bad — clinching the 15th spot in the 16-car playoff that begins in two weeks.

Elliott beat Larson to the finish line to win the first stage, and Busch took the second stage over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell.

ON THE OUTSIDE

Austin Dillon heads into the regular-season finale in 17th place after finishing third in the first stage but his day ended with a nasty crash as the second stage ended.

Dillon was trying to move up from below the white line when the No. 3 Chevrolet appeared to make contact with Brad Kesewlowski, sending Dillon hard into the outside wall and briefly airborne in the front straightaway.

Keselowski apologized immediately on the radio.

“I think we would have a shot for something there at the end with that race car,” he said. “I thought we had a little room to come up but he just held me down a little bit.”

NEW DEAL

Erik Jones told reporters Sunday he signed a contract extension this weekend to stay with Richard Petty Motorsports next season.

Jones didn’t divulge terms of the deal, which keeps him in the No. 43 Chevrolet. The announcement comes during a busy week in which he threw the first pitch at a Detroit Tigers game, stared a new charitable foundation and made an appearance for Chevy in Detroit.

“It’s cool to have it done,” he said on a video call. “Happy to have it done at this point of the season not only so I can focus on the rest of this season but also so I can focus on next year.”

TALKING IT OUT

Denny Hamlin said he’s moved on from last week’s tangle with Chase Briscoe at Indianapolis. Briscoe spun out the No. 11 Toyota with less than two laps left — and after Briscoe’s team had been told he would be penalized for cutting off the second turn by driving through the grass.

They first spoke on pit road then engaged in a Twitter spat when Briscoe’s radio transmissions were broadcast. It appeared to show the team was aware of the penalty before the contact. Briscoe then urged Hamlin to call him.

“We talked,” Hamlin said. “We talked on pit road and we talked after that, so yeah, I’m good. He can’t go back and change it. Would we do things differently next time? Probably. It was a bummer for me, yeah. I had as much at stake as he did.”

Hamlin hasn’t won yet this season but has clinched a playoff spot. Briscoe can make the playoffs with a win.

UP NEXT

The regular-season ends Saturday night at Daytona.

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More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP

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