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Blaney is back on track after disqualification, then reversal. NASCAR playoffs resume at Homestead

Ryan Blaney Ryan Blaney - The Canadian Press

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Ryan Blaney has experienced a range of emotions since last Sunday, from disappointment to relief.

The No. 12 Team Penske driver was disqualified after the opening race of the round of eight in NASCAR's playoffs because of an alleged illegal front shock on his Ford.

But NASCAR reversed the disqualification a day later because of a flawed template used during the postrace inspection, leaving Blaney with a much smaller deficit to overcome in the playoff field when the round of eight continues Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“A lot of emotions,” Blaney said Saturday, "but it was nice that it ended up, I think, as it should have.”

Only Kyle Larson has clinched a spot in the championship finale next month — the Hendrick Motorsports driver won the opening race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But Monday's reversal restored Blaney's sixth-place finish in that race and reduced his deficit from 56 points below the playoff cutline to 17.

“It’s still going to be hard to make it,” Blaney said, “but it’s not like a must-win. So it gives you a little more hope.”

Blaney, who is trying to make his first Cup Series championship finale, was running third in Homestead last year before he spun out. He said he'd like to capitalize on his experience in past races here, but anything can happen.

“Here you can have problems. Running the wall you can break some stuff pretty easy,” Blaney said. “You just go race and do the best you can.”

Larson, last year's Homestead winner, has little to gain in these next two races leading up to the championship, but that doesn't change his approach to Sunday's race.

“The pressure is probably a lot less than what other drivers are feeling," Larson said, “but I feel like I want to win just as bad as anyone else does, too.”

Larson's teammate William Byron is second in the playoff field. Teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing round out the top four.

After Sunday's race in Homestead, playoff drivers will have one more shot to reach the championship finale. The round of eight concludes at Martinsville Speedway next weekend.


For one last time, Kevin Harvick returns to the track where he won the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship nine years ago.

Sunday's race is named the 4EVER 400 presented by Mobil 1 in a nod to Harvick, who will retire from NASCAR at the end of this season after 60 career victories, three NASCAR national series championships and 13 consecutive playoff appearances.

The No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing driver will run the same paint scheme he won with at the 2014 championship at Homestead. NASCAR senior adviser Mike Helton, whom Harvick has developed a close relationship with over the years, will be an honorary starter for the race, and Stewart-Haas Racing crew chief Rodney Childers and his family will serve as grand marshals.

“What we set out to do was tell the story of the past 30 years," Harvick said Saturday, “and reintroduce the fans that weren't around to the early part of my career. ... It's been a great ride.”

Childers described his relationship with Harvick as the easiest one could have. Harvick's fellow competitors lauded his intensity and leadership.

“In my opinion, he's a Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart — when he leaves, you're going to notice that he's not there anymore,” Hamlin said. "He's certainly been a leader in the sport. He's kind of the last legacy guy we've got in our sport that used to know how it used to be. He's an important figure.”

Harvick has not won a race this season.


Truex, driver of the No. 19 for Joe Gibbs Racing, gave Toyota its 500th pole win in NASCAR competition with a pole victory Saturday. He will lead the field for Sunday's race.

Truex turned a lap of 167.441 mph, ahead of teammates Bubba Wallace (167.115 mph) and Tyler Reddick (166.955), who qualified second and third.

It is Truex's 22nd career Cup series pole.

“I didn’t really expect to get the pole today, honestly,” Truex said. “After practice, I felt like our car was pretty good in the long run, and we needed to make some tweaks to be better for tomorrow.”

Truex won the regular-season title but has flamed out in the playoffs as he vies for a second Cup title.

“I felt good coming into this round,” he said. “Coming here I felt good because it's been a good track for us. We've run up front here a lot, and it's just a comfort zone for me at this kind of racetrack.”

Larson qualified fifth. Byron qualified seventh and Blaney at No. 10. Denny Hamlin (11th) and Christopher Bell (13th) followed, and Chris Buescher was the lowest-qualifying playoff driver at 17th.


Larson is the race favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. ... Joey Logano, last year's championship finale winner, crashed in practice Saturday and was unable to make a qualifying lap. ... Grammy Award-winning artist Pitbull will be an honorary pace car official on Sunday.


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