A tale of 2 races for Ryan Blaney: 2 stage wins, disappointing 12th-place finish

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He led the most laps, won both stages and dominated the first half of Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

But the second half of the race was a whole other story for Ryan Blaney, who saw hopes for his first career NASCAR Cup win fall by the wayside with a 12th-place finish.

“It’s not where you want to finish,” said Blaney, who led 148 of 334 laps. “We deserved to finish third, at worst. Our car was a third-place car, at worst.”

Blaney added a few moments later about his 61st career Cup race: “I don’t care if we lead just one lap, as long as it’s the last one. We can lead 300-something (laps), but we just weren’t in position to lead the right lap.”

Even though it was his third-best finish of 2017, this arguably was the best race Blaney has run this season.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson Wins O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas for first Cup win of year

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MORE: Kyle Larson extends points lead after runner-up finish at Texas

Sure, he finished second at Daytona and ninth at Fontana, but he gained the most points (45) he’s earned in a race Sunday, led laps for only the second time this season (he led  two laps at Daytona) and moved from seventh to sixth in the Cup standings.

Also, Blaney’s 148 laps led were the most by a Wood Brothers Racing driver in a single race since Neil Bonnett led 200 laps en route to a win at Atlanta on Nov. 8, 1981.

“This is the most positive race we’ve ever had as a team, as a whole organization,” Blaney said. “I definitely think this is a big confidence boost for everyone, especially last week after Martinsville and how it ended up (finished 25th).

“This is a big help for everybody; you can’t hold your head down after this one.”

But there is still some disappointment after a bad pit stop late in the race cost Blaney a higher finish. He slid through his pit box by a few inches, then got hemmed in by cars in front (Kevin Harvick) and behind him (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) on pit road.

“That last pit stop was pretty discouraging,” he said. “We got in the back (after winning Stage 2) and couldn’t pass anybody. It was terrible to try to pass people.

“We made our way up to seventh or eight and then pitted, and I got into our box too long, and we were wedged in between two cars. I was over the line by a few inches. That sucked. I put us in that hole. We probably should have stayed out looking back on it, but that is easy to do.”

Like the rest of the NASCAR Cup Series, Blaney will enjoy next weekend off but is looking ahead to the next race at Bristol on April 23.

“I think it says a lot about this Motorcraft Quick Lane team about how good a car we had today,” the third-generation racer said. “If you had asked me yesterday I wouldn’t have said we would win two stages and have one of the fastest cars.

“They made really good changes this morning and that definitely says a lot. I am excited to get to Bristol in a couple weeks and see what we can do.

“I feel like the past couple of weeks, even though we haven’t gotten the finishes we deserved, our cars have been fast. … We’re great in the first half of races, we just have to figure out how to finish them off.”

He also managed to avoid any contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. after they had collided twice in the previous three races. Junior joked about it on Periscope after the race: “Yeah, we didn’t run into Blaney today! Blaney wasn’t mad at me today! Yeah, we got through this one without a lot of problems.”

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NASCAR America’s Jarrett, Letarte, Petty recap 2017, make 2018 predictions

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The 2017 NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series seasons have only been over for a few days.

And while it’s understandable that on Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Steve Letarte, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty reflected back on the recently completed race seasons, they also took a very bold move:

The new season is still three months away, but our analyst team is ALREADY making predictions for 2018.

We don’t want to spoil the surprise or show their hands. If you want to hear how they’re already viewing 2018, click on the video above.

Justin Hartley from NBC’s ‘This Is Us’ on Dale Jr.’s special bond with fans

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Even though Dale Earnhardt Jr. is now officially retired as a NASCAR Cup driver, the special bond between the former driver of the 88 will likely never go away.

Sure, Alex Bowman is replacing Junior in the 88, which will likely pick up some of Junior Nation to cheer for him. Others will gravitate to cheer for other drivers, perhaps youngsters William Byron, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and others.

But one thing is for certain: once a Dale Jr. fan and a member of Junior Nation, ALWAYS a Dale Jr. fan and a member of Junior Nation.

Justin Hartley, who plays Kevin on NBC’s top-rated “This Is Us,” is proud to call himself a card carrying member of Junior Nation. In the video above, Hartley shows what it’s like to be a Dale Jr. fan, what the third-generation driver meant to so many people for so many years, and how his legacy will continue on for decades to come.

Check out the video above to see what Junior Nation is all about, as well as thoughts from our NBC analysts, Kyle Petty, Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett.

NASCAR America: Nate Ryan on how 78 rode roller coaster to Cup crown

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If the 2017 NASCAR Cup season was an amusement park ride, it definitely would be a roller coaster for Martin Truex Jr., crew chief Cole Pearn and the rest of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team.

Up and down the season went, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.

There was adversity on the track and tragedy off the track, with Pearn losing his best friend to a freakish infection, and team member Jim Watson passing away in Kansas one day before the Cup race that Truex would go on to win and dedicate to his fallen teammate.

And through it all, Truex and longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex dealt with the recurrence of ovarian cancer with strength, inspiration and fortitude.

The 78 team’s dedication, sticking to the plan and rallying together as a family was the difference.

NBC Sports’ and NASCAR Talk’s Nate Ryan presented a touching pre-race tribute to Truex and his team before Sunday’s race. On Tuesday’s NASCAR America, Ryan gave an updated version of that tribute, capping it off with the best way possible: recalling how Truex and the 78 team won it all.

Check out the video above to see Nate’s touching piece.

 

Scan All: Miami — the best from the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400

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This week’s Scan All: Miami combined not only regular scanner traffic from team radios during Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400, but also studio cut-ins of Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn talking about their road to the Cup championship.

Here’s some of the best exchanges:

Martin Truex Jr. on coming into the race: “I felt good all weekend, I really did. I was relaxed and knew that no matter what happened, we had a great season and a lot to be proud of and a lot to build upon for the future.”

Truex on his team radio just before the green flag: “We’ve been working a long time to get here. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of you guys and what you’ve done. Thank you for an unbelieveable season. Let’s cap it off tonight.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. just before the green flag: “I just want to thank everybody that’s had an impact on my career. I’ve made friendships and relationships that’ll last a lifetime, and I’m just so thankful for that.”

Aric Almirola on his last start for Richard Petty Motorsports: “King, if you’re on the air, thanks for that phone call six years ago. It’s been a lot of fun driving this 43 car.”

Crew chief Darian Grubb to Kasey Kahne on his final start with Hendrick Motorsports: “I know it’s an emotional day for everybody. I’m proud to be able to call you teammate and even more proud to be able to continue to call you friend after this, bud.”

Kahne’s reply (while holding back tears): “Thank you guys for everything, man.”

Kahne’s spotter, Kevin Hamlin, to Grubb: “Man, you’ve got to make him cry before we go green?”

Cole Pearn on Kyle Larson getting a run: “The 42 is running the wall. He’s hauling ass.”

Clayton Hughes, spotter for Truex: “How about this, Martin Truex Jr., you are the champion, baby!”

Truex in studio cut-in on winning championship: “It was our time. There’s no doubt in my mind that it was our time. Sometimes, things are meant to be.”

Check out the whole Scan All segment in the video above.