By Dustin Albino

Homestead-Miami Speedway has always been Ryan Blaney’s kryptonite. His track record hasn’t been ideal at the facility, so having his best race ever at the track in the middle race in the Round of 8 was a clutch moment for the No. 12 team. 

In eight previous Homestead starts, Blaney had only one top five and a top 10 finish coming in 2020. He had just one additional top-15 effort and failed to crack the top 25 on three occasions. He entered the race 17 points below the elimination line, and if he could just break even in the championship standings, it would be considered a win. 

Instead, Blaney was among the best cars in the field throughout the weekend, leading the 10, 15 and 20-lap averages in practice. That long run speed stood out in Sunday’s 4Ever 400 presented by Mobil 1. 

From Blaney’s 10th starting position, he moved through the field and earned eight stage points in the opening stage. In the  second stage dominated by Kyle Larson, the No. 12 car capitalized as Larson struggled to put Daniel Suarez a lap down. That allowed Blaney to close in and pass Larson in short order for his fifth stage victory of the season. 

When Blaney made a green-flag pit stop with 54 laps remaining, Larson exceeded the limits in his car and ran into the rear of the No. 12 car while also plowing into the sand barriers at the entry of pit road. Larson was done for the day and Blaney regained the lead. 

Blaney lost control of the race to Denny Hamlin on the ensuing restart and dropped to fourth. On a later restart, the duo battled hard for third while Christopher Bell and William Byron scooted by. Something in Hamlin’s steering broke, and Blaney narrowly missed the No. 11 car pounding the wall. 

In the sprint to the finish, Byron and Bell were able to gap Blaney early in the run. Bell went on to win the race to lock in his spot in the Championship 4, as the No. 12 Ford tracked down the No. 24 car on the long run to finish second — his new personal best at Homestead.  

“We were good on long runs all day,” Blaney said. “It‘s what we needed. I just couldn‘t go for 10 laps or so and those guys got better. I think it hurt us a little bit with the track cooling off and guys‘ cars lasting longer. We were better when it was a little bit lower grip.

“I just couldn‘t maintain first or second, and by the time we got going and people‘s stuff were falling off, it was too late. Really strong piece, just got beat a little bit at the end.”

The 53 points earned by Blaney are the most he’s earned in a race that has had three stages this season. When he won the Coca-Cola 600 at the end of May, he banked 64 points during the four-stage race. 

Add in Hamlin’s wreck and Martin Truex Jr. blowing an engine during that same caution period, Blaney gained 27 points on the elimination line, sitting 10 points to the good entering one of his best tracks at Martinsville. 

“It‘s nice to come in here 17 back and leave 10 up,” he said. “That‘s a testament to this group. Proud of that effort. Just have to go perform next week, just like we did today and hopefully we can make it.”

Blaney enters the Championship 4 cutoff race 10 points above Tyler Reddick. Truex and Hamlin are both 17 points behind.

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