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Blaney Begins Title Defense With Top-3 Charge In Busch Clash

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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 L.A. 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 mid-way 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. “A couple restarts went our way as to where our lanes went, and just had a suIt marked his best finish in the L.A. 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 five-foot 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.”

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