clearn.png
Friday April 16th, 2021 3:14AM

Ryan Blaney hopes to avoid playoff elimination at Bristol

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

With a bit of disbelief over his fast fall in the NASCAR standings, Ryan Blaney is determined to avoid elimination from the playoffs.

It's a daunting task and just might require an outright win Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, where four drivers will be knocked from title contention. Blaney, who was solidly inside the top 10 of the Cup Series standings all year, has plummeted to last in the 16-driver field.

William Byron, Cole Custer, Matt DiBenedetto and Blaney are the four drivers below the cutline headed into the knockout race. It marks a bizarre collapse for Blaney, who spent 13 weeks ranked fourth or higher in the Cup standings and began the playoffs slotted seventh.

“This whole group, this team, we are not a 16th-place-in-points team,” Blaney said. "We showed it all year. We have had speed. It is just a matter of closing it out. We are way better than that and hopefully we can show it this weekend.”

The demise for the Team Penske group began with the playoff opener when his crew failed to notice a 5-pound bag of lead used for car setup at the shop had not been removed from the Ford prior to inspection at Darlington Raceway. Blaney was docked 10 points, crew chief Todd Gordon was suspended for the race and his 24th-place finish dropped him to 15th in the playoff standings.

But the No. 12 team was also off last week at Richmond, where Blaney finished 19th to fall to the edge of elimination.

“There are things we could have done better as a whole group to make sure we weren’t in this position,” Blaney said. “It is a bummer that we are in this position. It has been a rough two races and the round of 16 is a round that you can’t really screw up and we have managed to have a couple of screwups and find ourselves in this spot.”

Blaney can't afford to ride around the 0.533-mile bullring at Bristol, where officials have sold all 30,000 tickets available to spectators. He knows the race will be aggressive and the crowd is expecting to see the bumping-and-banging that was once a revered part of Bristol's racing.

“I caution those in front of me that I am not going to be behind them for very long if we are faster than them,” he said. ““I would love to say it is another race weekend, but it is our season.”

DIBENEDETTO IN LIMBO

The circumstances aren't entirely the same, but Matt DiBenedetto returns to Bristol in limbo for the second consecutive year.

DiBenedetto is in his first year driving for Wood Brothers Racing with team options for the next few years. He's not been picked up yet for 2021 and the team is contractually obligated to inform him of its plans by the end of September.

“They heavily expressed they wanted this to be a long-term relationship, something that we build for a long time to come,” DiBenedetto said. “I do not want to go anywhere. I love driving for the Wood Brothers. It’s been a dream come true."

The delay in deciding what to do with DiBenedetto could actually be a Team Penske decision. The Wood Brothers are aligned with Penske and the Penske organization may be trying to find a Cup seat for Xfinity Series driver Austin Cindric.

DiBenedetto faced uncertainty when he raced at Bristol last season days after learning Leavine Family Racing was replacing him with Christopher Bell. He turned in a career-best performance by leading 93 laps before Denny Hamlin passed him with 12 to go. DiBenedetto finished second.

Now he's racing to continue his playoffs and perhaps to keep his job.

“I sure hope it doesn’t come down to just one race as far as my contract stuff for next year," he said.

BOWYER ON THE BUBBLE

Kevin Harvick, Hamlin and Brad Keselowski are the only drivers already locked into the second round. The remaining nine spots aren't exactly up for grabs, but the potential for a surprise elimination exists.

Clint Bowyer holds the final transfer position by just three points over William Byron. Cole Custer trails Bowyer by eight points, while DiBendetto is 25 points behind and Blaney is 27 points out.

Bowyer has very little room for error but has embraced the challenge.

“This is what the playoffs are all about and supposed to be all about,” said Bowyer. “You want the nerve-wracking, nervous, pressure-packed races. I’m a fan and that’s what I would want if I was sitting in the grandstands or watching on television.”

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Auto Racing, NASCAR
© Copyright 2021 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
AP Exclusive: Pandemic shrinking Europe's monitor of US vote
The coronavirus pandemic has led Europe’s largest security organization to drastically scale back plans to send as many as 500 observers to the U.S. to monitor the Nov. 3 presidential election
3:31PM ( 2 minutes ago )
Trump and Biden hit unlikely battleground state of Minnesota
Donald Trump almost won Minnesota in 2016 and sees it as a state he might peel away from Democrat Joe Biden in November
3:15PM ( 18 minutes ago )
Running out of storm names, Atlantic season goes Greek
Forecasters have run out of traditional names for the Atlantic hurricane season
3:03PM ( 30 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Historic year: Antetokounmpo wins 2nd straight NBA MVP award
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s historic year earned him a historic awards sweep
2:28PM ( 1 hour ago )
Empty seats make for some strange sights, sounds in NFL
Only three teams allowed fans into their stadiums for their home openers and three more will do so Sunday
2:04PM ( 1 hour ago )
Falcons' secondary looks to avoid same mistakes vs. Cowboys
The Atlanta Falcons are vowing not to repeat mistakes in the secondary as they prepare to visit the Dallas Cowboys
1:48PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Sports
Suarez on the move again after parting with Gaunt Brothers
Daniel Suarez won't return to Gaunt Brothers Racing next season
10:25AM ( 3 days ago )
Hamilton wins hectic Tuscan GP, demands justice for Taylor
Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton kept his cool to win a crash-marred Tuscan Grand Prix for the 90th win of his incredible career to move one behind Michael Schumacher’s record
3:16PM ( 5 days ago )
NASCAR: Keselowski dominates in playoff win at Richmond
Brad Keselowski passed Austin Dillon for the lead with 48 laps to go and won the second race of NASCAR’s Cup series playoffs at Richmond Raceway
11:44PM ( 5 days ago )
AP Online Auto Racing
Harvick takes Southern 500 after leaders Elliott, Truex bump
Kevin Harvick moved in front after leaders Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. bumped and brushed the wall and held to open the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with a victory in the Southern 500
10:37PM ( 1 week ago )
Playoffs begin with 14 drivers chasing Harvick and Hamlin
Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are expected to race head-to-head for the NASCAR Cup title when the 10-week playoff series begin Sunday at Darlington Raceway
2:25PM ( 1 week ago )
NASCAR's playoffs move on without any pomp or circumstance
A NASCAR race is far more than 500 miles of left turns
5:09PM ( 1 week ago )
NASCAR
AP Exclusive: Pandemic shrinking Europe's monitor of US vote
The coronavirus pandemic has led Europe’s largest security organization to drastically scale back plans to send as many as 500 observers to the U.S. to monitor the Nov. 3 presidential election
3:31PM ( 2 minutes ago )
Trump and Biden hit unlikely battleground state of Minnesota
Donald Trump almost won Minnesota in 2016 and sees it as a state he might peel away from Democrat Joe Biden in November
3:15PM ( 18 minutes ago )
Running out of storm names, Atlantic season goes Greek
Forecasters have run out of traditional names for the Atlantic hurricane season
3:03PM ( 30 minutes ago )
Despair in Lebanon pushing some to flee to Europe in boats
Hundreds of Lebanese are fleeing miserable conditions in their country on migrant ships hoping to start a new life in Europe
2:40PM ( 53 minutes ago )
Puerto Rico getting funds for power grid 3 years after Maria
The Trump administration has announced that it will release nearly $13 billion in aid to Puerto Rico to help the island rebuild its electrical grid and repair schools from the devastation of Hurricane Maria three years earlier
2:36PM ( 57 minutes ago )