Race Weekend Central

Ryan Blaney Begins Title Defense With Top-3 Charge in Busch Clash

LOS ANGELES – The start of Ryan Blaney‘s 2024 NASCAR Cup Season could have gotten off to a better start.

The defending Cup champion could have started anywhere other than last in the third Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday.

But that’s not what happened in the hastily rescheduled exhibition race.

The Team Penske driver was so slow in practice – 66.598 mph for 26th fastest – that he had to take a points provisional in order to make the 23-car field.

So only three months after he was crowned in Phoenix, being a champion is paying dividends for Blaney.

“The plan was not to take the provisional,” Blaney said after the 150-lap race. “Our group was pretty slow. I guess we just couldn’t go. So we were lucky we got in the race. “

Blaney had no where to go but up, and he did.

When the race reached its midway point at lap 75, Blaney had driven his No. 12 Ford up to around 15th.

Seventy-five laps later, Blaney took the checkered flag in third behind race winner Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

“We did a good job all night just kind of staying clean, and our car was fast, too, to drive up through the field,” Blaney said.

The resuIt marked his best finish in the LA version of the Clash after placing 17th in the first two editions.

That included being involved in a wreck in the first one that resulted in Blaney throwing his HANS device at a passing Erik Jones.

“I think every time I’ve been spun backwards about two or three times, so it’s not nice to have that (happen) at the last one, so it’s good,” Blaney said.

After the race, a ticked off Blaney complained over his radio that Hamlin got at least a 5 ft. jump on the final restart in overtime.

But given the exhibition nature of the evening, Blaney wasn’t hung up on it as he took questions in the University of Southern California’s football locker room.

“Obviously, (Hamlin) kicked my ass on the restart so I’m going to say he jumped, but I thought it was a few feet early,” Blaney said. “It didn’t make a difference.”

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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