HOMESTEAD, Fla — Ryan Blaney wasn’t really ever in contention during Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. The Team Penske driver started 13th in the penultimate race of the Round of 8 and was 9th at the first stage break. They kept tinkering with their car and made it up to fourth by the end of Stage 2. That netted him 9 stage points and with Denny Hamlin only scoring one, Blaney who entered the day 11 points below Hamlin was now finding himself with a chance.
They elected to make the final stage on a two stop strategy instead of one so he hit pit road on Lap 208. That’s where his race and maybe championship hopes were each altered. Blaney came down pit road in 3rd. While exiting, he made a costly gear shifting mistake which caused his No. 12 Ford to spin and bring out the fourth caution of the day.
“Downshifted like a complete moron,” a dejected Blaney said on what happened while exiting the pits. “It’s just disappointing, mainly to myself the last two weeks, I’ve not done a good job executing at all from wrecking last week and a bonehead move like that this week. The 12 group doesn’t deserve that. I’m disappointed in myself and can’t have that. It’s pretty unacceptable.”
To make matters worse, it was a second straight race that he spun while running in the top 5 and each could be the reason that he’s not fighting for a championship in Phoenix too.
“Just go try to win Martinsville,” he continued as he now trails the cutline by 18. “That’s all we can do. Go try to run up front and have a good day, and that’s all we can ask for, just try to stay in the game and hopefully the driver doesn’t cost us anything.”
It’s ironic that the final driver into the postseason field, the only one to have not won a race this postseason in a year that has seen 19 different drivers reach victory lane during a points paying race, is likely facing a must-win situation next Sunday in Martinsville.
Blaney is now on a 44 race winless drought with his last victory coming in the 2021 regular season finale at Daytona. While he’s also winless in his career at Martinsville, it’s not like he’s been bad there either though.
He was fourth in the spring race while also coming home runner-up in both races in 2020. He was fourth and fifth respectively in 2019. Blaney, has six Top-5s in his last nine tries on the Virginia paperclip overall. While he was 11th in both races last year, he did sweep both stages in the spring race.