THIRD PLACE AT PHOENIX ENDS BLANEY’S PLAYOFF RUN

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Needing to make up a 23-point deficit to qualify for the Championship 4, Ryan Blaney started 10th in Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500, last among playoff contenders.

Blaney’s Team Penske No. 12 Ford improved throughout the race, and he finished third behind Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, but with Hamlin winning the race and Busch also advancing to the finale, Blaney was knocked out of contention.

Blaney had a chance to win when the race went to a restart with three laps to go, but Blaney started second on the inside, with Hamlin taking the top lane.

“I felt like I got an OK start,” Blaney said. “It’s really hard for the guy on the bottom on the front row to accelerate and turn down the hill. It’s the way (the track) is shaped. It’s kind of tough, especially in Turn 2. But I don’t know, you can always get a better start, right?

“I thought I got an OK start, but the 18 (Busch) got a better one and got inside of me, and, honestly, the top is so dominant, especially if you’re on two (tires), you’re kind of just sliding up from the bottom, and he (Hamlin) was obviously the best car all day. Just needed the lead and I might have been able to pinch him through 1 and 2, and you never know. But it’s not enough.”

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