Ryan Blaney returns to Kansas where win slipped away in May

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Ryan Blaney got into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs thanks to his first career win at Pocono Raceway in June.

But Blaney nearly got to victory lane three races earlier at Kansas Speedway in May.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver earned his first pole, won Stage 2 and led 83 laps in the Go Bowling! 400. But the No. 21 Ford was passed by Martin Truex Jr. with 19 laps to go and Blaney slipped back to fourth before the checkered flag.

Now the Wood Brothers crew returns to Kansas for this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400, the elimination race for the Round of 12.

Blaney is currently inside the top eight that would advance to the next round, but he’s not safe. He is seventh in the standings, nine points above Kyle Busch in ninth place. Jimmie Johnson sits in the final transfer spot, seven points up from Busch.

Blaney comes into Sunday’s race after he earned 18 stage points at Talladega and one playoff point for winning Stage 2. But Blaney’s Sunday ended when he was involved in a five-car wreck with 10 laps to go.

“We saw how important stage points are last week at Talladega, and it’ll be the same this week at Kansas,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said in a press release. “The 18 points Ryan earned in the first two stages at Talladega allowed us to move up four spots in the standings even after wrecking out of the race.”

Blaney will be battling with the bubble drivers of Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth to advance at Kansas.

To advance, Blaney needs to either win the race or earn 54 points in the race according to Racing Insights. That competition for those points begins on Friday when teams qualify.

“The weekend starts for sure on Friday, of trying to qualify up front and staying up front for the first stage or second stage and trying to get those points,” Blaney said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “They’re so valuable to your weekend and your playoff run. I don’t want to say it’s all about it. But they’re a really, really big part of the race on Sunday.”

Though Blaney trails the other four bubble drivers in regards to stage points earned through all five playoff races so far, he has the advantage when it comes to stage points earned in the Round of 12.

Blaney has earned 20 to Johnson’s 14, Kenseth’s 12 and Busch’s eight.

Blaney has an average of 7.1 stage points per race at 1.5-mile track this season. That trails Kenseth’s 7.3 and Busch’s 10.

A glaring disadvantage for Blaney is in playoff points. When he won Stage 2 at Talladega, Blaney garnered his ninth playoff point of the season.

That gives him the fourth fewest among the 12 remaining playoff drivers. The only drivers with fewer are Chase Elliott (six), Kenseth (five) and Jamie McMurray (three).

Blaney has made five starts at Kansas, including his first Cup start in 2014. With three top-10 finishes among them, his average finish is 11.4.

Blaney’s average finish on 1.5-mile tracks this season is 11.8. Of the four main bubble drivers, that is only bested by Kenseth’s average (10.1).

When it comes to points earned per race at 1.5-mile tracks, Blaney (32.4) is topped by Busch (33.4) and Kenseth (34.1).

Kyle Busch seeks alterations to Charlotte Roval after test

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Kyle Busch says he’s raised concerns about a couple of turns on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course to track officials after taking part in a Goodyear test there this week.

Busch, Trevor Bayne, Kyle Larson and Paul Menard tested Tuesday. Wednesday’s session was rained out and rescheduled for May 1. Busch is the winningest active Cup driver on road courses. He has four career road course victories (two at Sonoma and two at Watkins Glen).

Busch, said he talked with Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., and Don Hawk, SMI’s senior vice president of business affairs, about his concerns.

“They have an idea for changes to one of them, but not the other one,’’ Busch said Saturday at Martinsville Speedway.

One area of concern is the chicane on the frontstretch.

“When you’re coming down onto the front straightaway and you have that zone in the infield grass and then you turn (right), you have a direct, head-on impact into the wall on the front straightaway there so that’s kind of a concern,’’ Busch said.

“The chicane on the frontstretch, when you turn to the right (Turn 16 in the above diagram) heading head-on into a wall and then you have to turn back left going along the front straightaway (was an issue raised). When we were testing, it wasn’t bad because you could hop this curve and hop that curve, but then they wanted to straighten that out more from turn seven like at Sonoma, which is more of a 90-degree turn, and would make that angle worse.

“I expressed my displeasure with that idea and then we also had the same thing coming from Turn 7 to Turn 8 where you’re braking in a zone and heading head-on into the front straightaway wall to get back (from the infield course to Turn 1 of the oval). Softening up that corner as well and making that tighter and a softer corner where you can … get back on the main track a little safer.

“Those are some instances that I felt were kind of the worst instances. Other than that, I thought the track was kind of OK. It’s a bit narrow and tight in places, but I think you have that at some other road courses that I have not been at that NASCAR has. Montreal is really narrow, too and it puts on a decent show. I think it will be fine, it will just be different. I think it’s going to be about survival more than anything.”

The Cup series races on the Charlotte’s roval on Sept. 30 on NBC. It is the final race of the first round of the playoffs and will cut the number of title contenders from 16 to 12.

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Cup starting lineup at Martinsville Speedway

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Martin Truex Jr. will start on the pole for Sunday’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway after qualifying was canceled by rain and snow Saturday.

“It’s definitely a big advantage to start out front,” Truex said. “First pit box obviously, everyone knows it’s a big deal here and that’s where you want to be so you get that clean stall in and out and not get torn up on pit road.”

The lineup was set by car owner points.

Kyle Busch will join Truex on the front row.

Row 2 will feature Team Penske’s Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. Teammate Ryan Blaney starts fifth.

Click here for starting lineup

Martinsville Truck race postponed to Sunday after Cup race

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The Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Truck race at Martinsville has been postponed until Sunday afternoon, following the Cup race.

Ben Rhodes led the field to green 2:05 p.m. and held the lead until Mike Senica stalled on the track. Rhodes led the first 23 laps until precipitation red flagged the event at 2:17.

The Truck race will be televised on FS1.

Martin Truex Jr. sweeps Martinsville Cup practice

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After posting the fastest single lap and quickest 10-lap average in the first practice, Martin Truex. Jr. also topped the fastest lap chart in final practice for the STP 500 with a speed of 95.415 mph.

Also repeating his performance from the first practice, Brad Keselowski was second on the leaderboard. Keselowski was fast on long runs with the quickest 10-lap average of 94.579 mph.

Sophomore Daniel Suarez was notably fast. His lap of 95.588 mph was third on the chart.

Kyle Busch (95.122) and Ryan Newman (94.756) rounded out the top five.

Jimmie Johnson (93.831) was hoping to carry over momentum from last week’s top 1o at Auto Club, but struggled to find single lap speed. He landed 28th on the speed chart.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wheel hopped entering turn three with 33 minutes remaining. He rolled out a backup car and will start at the back regardless of where he qualifies.

Click here for the full final practice times.