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Ryan Blaney wants more ovations, but there’s one he’d rather forget

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Ryan Blaney loves applause, such as when he’s introduced before a NASCAR Cup race or the kind he received after each of his four Xfinity Series wins and four Camping World Truck Series wins.

But there’s a round of applause and even a standing ovation Blaney once received that – well, after a humbling and embarrassing experience – he’ll make sure it never happens again.

Even though he drives the No. 21 Ford Fusion for the legendary Wood Brothers, Blaney is still a part of Team Penske, as well.

We’ll let Ryan tell the story:

“The one thing you don’t want to be is late to a Penske breakfast. You’ve got everybody there. Mr. Penske is there and all the brass and I walk in late.

“I don’t know what happened. I don’t think I overslept. I might have overslept, but I got there and there was a standing ovation.  That was like in 2012 or 2013, right when I got there, and you talk about wanting to walk out of the room.

“I started sweating bullets and was just as nervous as can be, and then you’ve got to go up and give a speech right after that. That was a rough day for sure, so I make sure I’m one of the earliest to the Penske breakfast.”

On a more pleasant note …

Blaney will be starting his second full season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next month at Daytona. His rookie season had its share of ups and downs in 2016.

He earned three top-five and nine top-10 finishes, but a rough second half not only cost him Rookie of the Year honors to Chase Elliott, Blaney also failed to make the playoffs and finished 20th.

Since the conclusion of the season-ending race at Homestead, Blaney has been anticipating the 2017 season, ready to put to practice some of the lessons he learned along the way.

“I think you learn the most about trying to improve your car over the whole race, and the amount of preparation and setup time it takes to get these cars to where you need to be,” Blaney said during this week’s NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Most of the time, if you’re not fast on Friday or Saturday it really makes for a tough weekend.

“The preparation before you even get to the track is key, to try to be as close as you can be. As drivers, we can only do so much about that, but trying to give the best information that you can throughout the whole weekend – Friday, Saturday and during the race on Sunday – is so key.

“That was probably one of the biggest things I tried to work on and get better at. I spent a lot of time in the off-season trying to do just that, and then the communication side between myself and my engineers and crew chief.”

With one of the biggest sports car races in the world – the Rolex 24 – taking place this weekend at Daytona, Blaney admits he wouldn’t mind giving a sports car a whirl some day.

“With the Ford GT program starting up and it doing so well, I would love to do that,” he said.“I would love to do the Rolex 24 or anything like that – one of the bigger races or even a smaller race.

“I love road courses and Ford has made a big commitment into the GT program and the Mustang program, so that’s something I would highly enjoy doing if I ever got a call or opportunity from Mr. Penske or Ford, I would definitely do that in a heartbeat.”

And if he did well, the resulting applause – and maybe even a standing ovation – would be welcome this time.

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Ryan Preece is fastest in final Xfinity practice Friday at Kentucky

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Ryan Preece soared to the top of the speed chart in the final Xfinity practice Friday night at Kentucky Speedway.

Preece covered the 1.5-mile oval with a top speed of 181.629 mph. He hit that speed on his first of 38 laps run during the session.

Justin Allgaier was second (180.777 mph), followed by Spencer Gallagher Jr. (180.114), Tyler Reddick (179.832) and Daniel Hemric (179.712).

Sixth through 10th: Matt Tifft (179.665), who was fastest in the first practice session earlier in the afternoon, William Byron (179.605), Brennan Poole (179.581), Sam Hornish Jr. (179.521) and Brandon Jones (179.521).

Five of the 12 Xfinity playoff contenders ended up in the top 10: Allgaier, Hemric, Tifft, Byron and Poole.

Others playoff contenders on the speed chart were Elliott Sadler (12th, 179.194), Ryan Reed (16th, 178.944), Cole Custer (17th, 178.838), Brendan Gaughan (19th, 178.453), Blake Koch (20th, 178.159), Michael Annett (21st, 178.124) and Jeremy Clements (25th, 176. 286).

Qualifying for Saturday night’s VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 takes place at 5:30 p.m. ET, with the race set to take the green flag at 8 p.m. ET.

Click here for the full speed chart from the final Xfinity practice.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Cup race at Loudon

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Up until this season, Kyle Busch wasn’t necessarily looked upon as a prolific qualifier.

He earned a career-best three poles in 2013 and 2014.

But that’s nothing compared to 2017, as Busch earned a career-best eighth pole Friday for Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

It’s also his second consecutive pole, having won the pole for last weekend’s playoff-opening race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Kyle Larson was next and will join Busch on the front row Sunday.

As for the other 14 NASCAR Cup playoff contenders: Denny Hamlin (134.763) was third, followed by Ryan Blaney (134.720), Chicagoland winner Martin Truex Jr. (134.188), Kevin Harvick (134.108), Kurt Busch (133.985), Kasey Kahne (133.966), Matt Kenseth (133.589), Jamie McMurray (133.680) and Jimmie Johnson (131.989).

Of the top 12 qualifiers, 11 are playoff drivers. The only non-playoff driver was Erik Jones (eighth, 133.971).

As for the other five playoff contenders, Brad Keselowski was 13th (133.422), Chase Elliott (133.357) was 14th, Austin Dillon was 17th (133.133), Ryan Newman was 18th (133.007) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. qualified 24th (131.628).

Click here for the starting lineup.

 

Kyle Busch gets past Kyle Larson to take Cup pole at Loudon

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In a battle between Kyle and Kyle, it was Kyle Busch who emerged with the pole for Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 Friday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The younger Busch brother was the only driver over 135 mph, taking his 27th career Cup pole with a speed of 135.049 mph.

“Just went out there and gave it what she had,” Busch told NBCSN. “It certainly would be great to finish this out in victory lane on Sunday.

“We knew we were going to have a shot for the pole, just didn’t know if we were going to get it. For as ugly as that session looked or felt from my vantage point, it certainly worked out.”

Busch has now won the pole for the first two playoff races, having won the pole last week at Chicagoland.

What’s more, this is the most prolific season of qualifying for Busch in his career: this is his eighth pole in 2017, most of all drivers in the Cup series and his most in a single season. His previous mark for most poles in a single season was three in both 2013 and 2014.

As for the other Kyle, Kyle Larson, he qualified on the outside of the front row with an effort of 134.911 mph.

“I feel overall that my lap was pretty good,” said Larson, who finished second in the July race at New Hampshire. “The 18 has been real fast, especially in qualifying all year. For us to be second to him is not bad.”

Denny Hamlin (134.763) was third, followed by Ryan Blaney (134.720), Martin Truex Jr. (134.188), Kevin Harvick (134.108), Kurt Busch (133.985), Erik Jones (133.971), Kasey Kahne (133.966), Matt Kenseth (133.589), Jamie McMurray (133.680) and Jimmie Johnson (131.989).

Of the top 12, 11 are in the NASCAR Cup playoffs. The only non-playoff driver was Jones.

As for the other five playoff contenders, Brad Keselowski was 13th (133.422), Chase Elliott (133.357) was 14th, Austin Dillon was 17th (133.133), Ryan Newman was 18th (133.007) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. qualified 24th (131.628).

Elliott and Johnson both wrecked their primary cars in the Cup practice session earlier in the day.

While Johnson was able to get back on-track for that practice session with his back-up car, Elliott qualified cold with his back-up, unable to get back on-track during the morning practice.

Joey Logano did not take a qualifying lap after failing pre-qualifying inspection four times. Logano will start last (40th position) in Sunday’s race at NHMS, which he considers his “home track.”

Click here for the full qualifying grid.

Matt Tifft fastest in first of 2 Xfinity practices at Kentucky Speedway

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Matt Tifft ran 25 laps during Friday afternoon’s first of two NASCAR Xfinity Series practice sessions at Kentucky Speedway.

But it was just one lap that mattered the most, as Tifft (180.427 mph) emerged from the 55-minute practice as the fastest in the 36 cars that took to the track.

Brian Scott was second (179.253 mph), followed by Ryan Preece (178.465), Brandon Jones (178.288), Justin Allgaier (178.271), Ben Kennedy (178.136), Elliott Sadler (177.573), Tyler Reddick (177.544), Spencer Gallagher Jr. (177.503) and Brennan Poole (177.381).

Interestingly enough, only four of the top-10 were playoff contenders. The seven-race Xfinity playoffs begin with Saturday night’s VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300.

There will be one more practice session today from 6:30-7:25 p.m. ET.

Qualifying and the race are Saturday.

Click here for the full practice speed grid.