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Ryan Blaney celebrates; Martin Truex Jr. laments after Daytona

Ryan Blaney explains how he approached the Daytona Cup Series race, knowing what was at stake, and what it means to have secured the final spot in the playoffs.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Ryan Blaney said he couldn’t wait to “crack open a beer” after his stressful day Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

Martin Truex Jr. could only lament what might have been this season.

Blaney beat Truex by three points to take the final playoff spot after Austin Dillon claimed the other remaining playoff spot with his victory.

Blaney finished six laps behind the leaders in 15th place to cap his emotionally draining weekend.

“I’m going to go home and crack open a beer and relax a little bit because that was a stressful day,” Blaney said. “That was a long weekend. No qualifying, not getting in the car, don’t race (Saturday night), wait around after you get wrecked, then you have a (3-hour, 19-minute) rain delay. Just definitely mentally draining. It will be nice to relax a little bit.”

What kind of beer does Blaney want to drink?

“Anything cold,” he said.

MORE: What drivers said at Daytona

MORE: Some drivers critical of NASCAR officiating

The day started with Blaney 25 points ahead of Truex. Things turned quickly when Blaney was involved in an early accident and saw his advantage slip away throughout the 160-lap race.

“I cannot believe that happened,” Blaney said of being collected in a six-car crash that brought out the caution on Lap 32. “Weren’t even being aggressive. Just running there and a guy bumps someone too hard and you end up getting tagged.

“A lot was going on so you just kind of asses your car and go, ‘Man, that sucks.’ Then you just kind of realize it and make the most of it.”

His car suffered right front damage and he lost laps while his team made repairs, but Blaney benefitted from three accidents that collected between six and 13 cars.

Blaney avoided each incident, which thinned the field. Only 16 of the 37 cars in the race finished. That allowed him to move ahead of cars that were out of the race that he wouldn’t have been able to get by for position on the track.

It also helped that Truex was involved in an eight-car crash that brought out the caution on Lap 103. As he slid, his right front tire blew and ripped the fender off.

“Wrong place at the wrong time,” said Truex, who finished eighth.

Even though he was still running at the end, that damage kept Truex from running closer to the front at the end.

“Just had too much damage at the end,” Truex said. “Just couldn’t keep up with them.”

By falling three points short, Truex will miss the playoffs despite finishing fourth in the in standings for the regular season.

Truex had made the playoffs each of the past seven seasons and reached the championship race in four of the previous five years, winning the 2017 title.

“It sucks,” Truex said of missing the playoffs. “You race your ass off all year and you work hard and you try to do all the things it takes and to come up three points short is pretty tough to swallow when I know we can do something in the playoffs.”