No panic for Blaney heading into Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN) at Homestead

HOMESTEAD, Fla — Penske Racing driver Ryan Blaney took the blame for his poor finish in the Round of 8 Playoff opener last week at Las Vegas. Blaney’s No. 12 Team Penske Ford hit the wall late in the race and suffered enough damage that he ultimately finished 28th, seven laps down.

With the disappointing finish, Blaney dropped out of the Top-4 in the standings, however he’s only 11 points behind Hamlin, who currently holds that fourth and final cutoff position. They’ll each share Row 7 in Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN).

Blaney said he remained very optimistic about his Playoff hopes and doesn’t consider Sunday’s race to be a high-pressure “must win” situation.  He earned his only Top-10 in seven Homestead starts in 2020 – finishing third and leading 70 laps. He’s had three Top-10 finishes in the Xfinity Series at the track and a runner-up showing in the 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race there.

“I don’t think we are in a must-win,’’ Blaney said. “After I wrecked last week I thought I was going to be way more points out than I actually am. The stages we ran really good, so luckily we had those. You never know what can happen.

“I think you can make up those points the next two races. I would sure like to win this weekend, but I don’t think we are in a must-win situation.’’

Many tabbed him as one of the favorites for this race when we tested here last month. However, Penske struggled in qualifying on Saturday but lucky for them, 5 of the 8 playoff drivers all failed to make the final round too.

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