NASCAR Barometer: Blaney Grabs Third Season Win at Daytona

NASCAR Barometer: Blaney Grabs Third Season Win at Daytona

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series regular season came to a close Saturday in an aggressive night race at Daytona International Speedway. Ryan Blaney kept his car out of trouble and was out front when the final flag waved on an overtime finish to give him his second win in as many weeks and third of the season. Ford's early pit strategy led to him gaining the advantage he needed to spend the final miles at the front, as most Chevrolet and Toyota teams were forced to pit under caution, giving up their track position to the Fords as they remained on track. The race featured 45 lead changes along with five cautions for crashes. It was nail-biter to the end for the playoff field to finally be set. 

Only one playoff position remained to be claimed Saturday, and it looked to be a battle between teammates Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick. The numerous lead changes, crashes and number of drivers with speed who didn't have a win on the season made it much more than a two-car battle, however. In the end, the seesaw battle between the teammates was the decider with Reddick squeaking his way through on points and on track, as the final caution ended the race with Dillon involved in the carnage. The championship field is now set, and the 10-race elimination format gets rolling this week at Darlington Raceway in the Southern 500.

UPGRADE

Ryan Blaney – Two weeks ago at Michigan, Blaney put together

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series regular season came to a close Saturday in an aggressive night race at Daytona International Speedway. Ryan Blaney kept his car out of trouble and was out front when the final flag waved on an overtime finish to give him his second win in as many weeks and third of the season. Ford's early pit strategy led to him gaining the advantage he needed to spend the final miles at the front, as most Chevrolet and Toyota teams were forced to pit under caution, giving up their track position to the Fords as they remained on track. The race featured 45 lead changes along with five cautions for crashes. It was nail-biter to the end for the playoff field to finally be set. 

Only one playoff position remained to be claimed Saturday, and it looked to be a battle between teammates Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick. The numerous lead changes, crashes and number of drivers with speed who didn't have a win on the season made it much more than a two-car battle, however. In the end, the seesaw battle between the teammates was the decider with Reddick squeaking his way through on points and on track, as the final caution ended the race with Dillon involved in the carnage. The championship field is now set, and the 10-race elimination format gets rolling this week at Darlington Raceway in the Southern 500.

UPGRADE

Ryan Blaney – Two weeks ago at Michigan, Blaney put together the first multiwin season of his career. Saturday night he survived the wild pushing at Daytona to win two races in a row and make it three wins on the season. It has been a good to weeks for Blaney who may hold the most momentum as the playoffs get underway this coming week at Darlington. He sits third in the reset standings, tied on points with Martin Truex Jr. Blaney has nine career starts at this week's track. His lone top-10 there came earlier this season when he finished eighth, too. This season is already Blaney's best in the series, and he now has a chance in the playoffs to make it even better.

Chase Elliott – Elliott started Saturday night's regular-season finale in a nice position at the front of the field, which is exactly where he stayed throughout the first segment to take the stage victory. The defending series champion was coming through the pack to the front in the final laps to fight among the leaders for the win, but was one of the many cars caught up in the crash that ended the race. The results put him eighth on the night, which was his 11th top-10 finish of the season. Elliott has not yet won at Darlington, but he has finished in the top five twice and the top 10 two other times. His average finish from nine track starts is 17.2, and he finished seventh there earlier this year.

Joey Logano – Logano has shown himself to be one of the best at controlling the field from the front at superspeedways. That talent was on display again Saturday at Daytona where he masterfully led both lines of cars behind him to the finish of the second stage to capture the segment win. Unfortunately, he was involved in some of the aggressive pushing and blocking late in the race and cut a tire. That dropped him from contention as he valiantly fought the car to pit road. The issue coming so late in the race left him a lap down and outside of the top 20 at the finish. Logano has never won at Darlington, but does have seven top-10s and four top-fives there. He holds ninth place in the reset championship standings as the playoffs commence.

Tyler Reddick – Reddick's playoff hopes hung in the balance throughout Saturday's regular-season finale. Things didn't look good when he was involved in a crash that sent smoke spewing from the car. The team made repairs on pit road and cleaned up as much damage as possible to keep him on track, which proved to be the difference maker. When teammate Dillon was involved in the final wreck of the night, Reddick barely held on to make it through and finish ahead of him. That was enough for Reddick to earn the points he needed to wrap up the final playoff position. Reddick heads to Darlington this week as a championship contender with an average finish of 13.8 from four starts at the historic circuit.

DOWNGRADE

Aric Almirola – Almirola was one of the first drivers to suffer damage Saturday night at Daytona. The No. 10 machine was running in the middle of the pack, but was hit in the rear by Alex Bowman. The contact heavily damaged the rear of Almirola's car, and both drivers were sent into a spin. The team made repairs, and Almirola was able to get back into the top 10 at times but could not navigate the final miles in contention and ended the night in 14th. Almirola's win at New Hampshire put him into the playoffs, but he may find it hard to advance. He has just two top-10s at Darlington and crashed out of the race the first visit there this season.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex was working to make a run toward the lead late in the final stage Saturday night when he was turned by a push from behind. The push was unexpected after a slight checkup by cars ahead of Truex, but the contact was enough to send Truex into the outside wall and into William Byron. He almost saved the crash but was hit again from behind, which sent him spinning into the grass and out of contention. Truex will have to overcome his Daytona frustration and focus on getting out of the blocks well in the playoffs to give him some momentum in the championship fight. Darlington is a good track for him to do that, too. He has two career wins there and led 444 laps in the last two races.

William Byron – Byron was an innocent bystander in a late crash that hurt a lot of contenders for the win Saturday night. The Hendrick Motorsports driver was able to get himself to the front and was in contact with the leaders when Truex was spun into him, pinning the No. 24 into the outside wall and out of the race. Byron is safely in the playoffs and has been focused on that for much of the season already. Those important weeks get underway this week at Darlington where he has finished fifth and fourth in the two most recent races at the circuit. He won at Daytona to get into the playoffs last season, but it remains to be seen how he will fare this year after an early exit in the final regular-season race.

Austin Dillon – Dillon knew the only way to keep his championship hopes alive was to control his own destiny by winning at Daytona. He put up a tremendous fight throughout the race and often looked as though he might end up being one of the cars in the battle for the win. He closed ground on teammate Reddick and was in position to potentially get the job done before he was felled by the final crash at the front of the field that caught him firmly in the middle. Reddick snuck through the carnage, finished ahead of Dillon and captured that final playoff position. Dillon will be racing for wins these final 10 races now, and fantasy players may recall that he finished second at Darlington in last season's Southern 500.

Matt DiBenedetto – There arguably couldn't have been a bigger Cinderella story Saturday in Daytona than if DiBenedetto had been the driver pulling into Victory Lane. The Wood Brothers Racing driver was in the midst of his best ever string of results in the series and even found his way to the front late in the race. That strength proved to be short-lived, as he was shuffled backward in the draft and then claimed in the late crash that caused the race to end in an overtime finish. DiBenedetto remains one of the more marketable drivers for a race seat in 2022, but he remains without a ride with 10 races left in the season to prove himself and convince a team owner to keep him behind the wheel.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Bubba Wallace – While Wallace is consistently a driver fantasy players should be choosing at superspeedways, he may have showed Saturday in Daytona that he has the pedigree to finish the job at one. The 23XI Racing driver spent most of Saturday's race in prime position and even managed to get to the front at times, leading eight laps. It was one of Wallace's best performances, as criticism of his late-race decisions may now fade with his solid runner-up finish behind his friend Blaney. Wallace's teammate at the new organization was announced earlier in the week as Kurt Busch, who's veteran experience will undoubtedly help Wallace maximize his potential with the team.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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