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Ryan Blaney already has his bags packed for next November in Las Vegas

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Ryan Blaney has a new favorite song.

It’s an oldie but goodie by Elvis Presley, but the up-and-coming young NASCAR star can’t be faulted for singing, humming or whistling it: “Viva Las Vegas!”

The reason is simple: Blaney attended his first NASCAR Awards more than three weeks ago in Las Vegas. Because he qualified for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, he was among the 16 drivers that were feted and toasted in what was Martin Truex Jr.’s celebratory party.

After having so much fun in Vegas, including doing burnouts on the famed Strip, Blaney is bound and determined to make it back to the land of slots, shows and speed every year.

To do that, he’ll have to make the NASCAR Cup playoffs each year too, but at 23 years old (he turns 24 on Dec. 31), Blaney likely has another 15 to 20 awards shows still left to attend.

And maybe a championship or two or three for him to be feted just like Truex this year, Jimmie Johnson last year and so many others that have preceded him as NASCAR’s best.

“It was a good time,” Blaney said. “I had a lot of fun. I was out there all week. The things we got to be able to do like the podcast we did, meet a lot of fans, drive up and down Las Vegas Boulevard and do some burnouts, to see how many people lined the street to see us was pretty neat.

“It felt good to have fun with the other drivers outside of the season. And then of course the Awards Banquet was a blast, as well. It was my first experience with Champions Week and hopefully I’ll be able to keep going back there every single year for the rest of my driving days.”

Other than the Awards show, Blaney’s favorite experience was driving on the Strip. But you’ll love his reason why:

“For multiple reasons,” Blaney said. “First, you never can do a burnout on Las Vegas Boulevard without getting arrested and we were able to do that, so that was nice.

“Also, honestly, driving the No. 21 car for the last time, the last time I was going to be in that car, that was really special to me, driving up and down the Strip. That was probably the coolest experience, I think.”

Blaney said he’ll always treasure his time driving the No. 21 Ford for the legendary Wood Brothers Racing, especially winning his first career Cup race this summer at Pocono, which was the 99th win in Wood Brothers annals.

He tried his best to get the 100th win, but fell short.

“I’ve used that word, bittersweet, a lot the last couple months,” Blaney said. “As the races were winding down with them, it was really sad to leave the Wood Brothers because they were so good to me and a great family.

“I was kind of sad to leave there, but at the same time, it’s a dream to go drive for Roger Penske. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so I’m looking forward to that.

“But, yeah, it was bittersweet feeling, for sure. I can’t thank the Wood Brothers enough for the last two years.”

Now, Blaney takes the next big step of his career by driving the No. 12 Ford in 2018 for an equally legendary team owner, Roger Penske.

“I’m really looking forward to being in-house over at the Penske group,” he said, “and being able to bring back the 12 car, that’s a really big deal and we’re real excited to get that team up and running and expand and hopefully make us stronger.”

To drive for two of the most legendary teams and team owners in all forms of motorsports might be a heady thing for some young drivers, but not for Blaney.

Instead of worried, he’s relaxed. Instead of feeling pressure, he embraces that he’s been chosen to be an integral part of one legendary team and now another equally legendary team.

“No, not really, there hasn’t been any pressure,” Blaney said. “I’ve just been really lucky and fortunate to drive for a couple great owners and families and teams.

“They’re two of the most iconic teams in racing and I’ve been lucky enough to drive for both of them. To go drive for Mr. Penske is great and hopefully I’ll be there for the rest of my career.

“It’s been a lot of fun. I wouldn’t say there’s any added pressure, I’m just very fortunate to be in this position and be able to drive for some great people.

“I almost see it more as opportunity. It kind of makes me strive harder to do even better. I’ve always enjoyed challenges and feel like this is a good challenge and I’m excited to accept it.”

So Blaney will win the Daytona 500 two months from now, right?

“I hope so. We were close last year (finished second in this year’s 500). We’ll see if we can do one better this time around.”

And if he does win the 500, you can bet he’ll be singing “Viva Las Vegas” in victory lane.

 

What drivers said after Richmond Cup race

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Kyle Busch — Winner: “I think the difference for us tonight was just the adjustments. Trying to stay with the racetrack all night long. Adam Stevens (crew chief) and my guys did a phenomenal job. I think one of the other keys to the night was just my guys – my pit crew – they got us out front when it mattered the most those last two pit stops. They were awesome tonight on pit road.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 2nd: “Just very fortunate circumstances there at the end for us with the way the restarts went. Having a short run there at the end was definitely in our favor. So it was nice to be on the good end of things for the first time in a while. Looking forward, we have to be realistic about how we ran tonight. I think the result shouldn’t weigh into how hard we worked this week because we have some work to do. I think that we have to keep that in mind.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 3rd: “We just got better as the race went on. We were 13th, 15th, something like that in the first half of the race. Just weren’t very strong. We just made some really good adjustments that got us rolling towards the front, especially on long runs. We got to the top five, then we had some pit stops there. We gained a few spots there. But, you know, restarting on that outside line, it was a huge deficit. I just couldn’t get the grip that I needed to try to run with (Kyle Busch) side‑by‑side into Turn 1. That’s all I wanted, to be within one car length getting into turn one, and I just couldn’t get it.’’

Joey Logano — Finished 4th: “We had a really good Shell Pennzoil Ford early in the race and got a couple stage wins early, which was great. We maxed out those points, which is awesome. We just lost the handle on the car and fell back to sixth or so. We had a bad pit stop and lost a bunch of spots and then had a really good pit stop and got them all right back and were able to come home with a top five. I wish I could rerun that. I feel like we can do better if we tried again. I am sure the whole field would say that. I am proud of the speed we showed at Richmond. Just want to be a little better.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “No more restarts. We were terrible on the restarts there compared to three or four of those guys. I was spinning the tires getting going there on the restarts. All of the night taken into consideration we were way better than we have been in the past and that is an important race for us to figure out where we need to be with all of the things that didn’t go right tonight and be ready for when we come back here for the playoff race.”  

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 6th: “We had to start the race on the tires we qualified with, and as soon as we got those tires off the car, we were a very competitive car and were able to stay on the lead lap. And with the long green-flag runs, we were able to still stay on the lead lap and work our way up through the field. I don’t know what we’re missing on scuff tires, but that’s something we’ve got to figure out.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 7th: “We weren’t very good all race long. And then I ended up getting the Lucky Dog there and then lost a lap … so that was kind of a hiccup on our part. I was able to get the Lucky Dog again and then charge from wherever we were to seventh the last laps. So, we salvaged a really good finish, which was good.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 9th: “We had a really good car. It’s just frustrating there at the end. All hell breaks loose. We lost a couple of spots on pit road, and that gets you back, and then you get on the outside and get stuck behind somebody that spun their tires, and you knock the front fender in on the 24 because he spun his tires. The next thing you know, you’re 10th thinking, ‘Boy, how did this night go to ruin so fast?’ Then it’s just beating and banging and everybody dive-bombing on the bottom. Those cars that are a lap down you’re lapping, and all of a sudden sticking it in three-wide with nothing to lose at the end. It’s a shame that a good, positive night ends up being like that, but that’s racing at this place.”

William Byron — Finished 12th: “I sped on pit road, and I guess I was just pushing the last segment there in the corner, and we were a little bit too fast coming onto the straightaway. Overall, a really good night. We got stage points, I think we finished fifth in both stages, and I think we finished 12th, but overall learned a lot and can just really build on this.  I love racing at short tracks. It’s a blast and definitely learned a lot from this.” 

Erik Jones — Finished 13th: “Just a really tough day. We really just didn’t have the right car from the start. I wasn’t too sure about it during practice, but once we fired off we realized it was going to be a pretty big struggle all day. We hung with it and fought hard and came home with an OK finish, but just need to get a lot better for the next one.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 14th: “Pretty disappointed that we didn’t get at least a chance. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t know what we have to do to win one of these short-tracks and get everything to go the way we need it to. Tonight we beat ourselves, so that’s unfortunate. The guys did a really good job with the race car. We were awful at the start of the race, and I thought we were really in trouble. Just fought all night long and tried to stick with it and make good adjustments, and put ourselves in position to try to win another one and just came up short. Frustrated, but proud of everyone for the effort and hopefully we get them next week.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 15th: “Richmond Raceway has always been what I consider the hardest track on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit, so I was really proud of our efforts in Stage 1. Our AAA Camaro ZL1 was really good. We were the fastest car on the track for most of the run and were able to race our way from 23rd to eighth and earn a few stage points. Once the race transitioned to night, we lost some of the magic. We just weren’t as strong. I put us in a bit of a hole by earning a commitment line violation coming to pit road, but we worked hard and had a good shot at the end. It was just hard to find a line that made moves.” 

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 16th: “A 16th for us at Go Fas Racing is a heck of a run. We outran some really, really good cars all day. Our car had crazy-good long run speed and of all days for us to have really good long-run speed, today was definitely the day. But even at the end when we had the green-white-checker, we were able to pass a couple of good cars and pick up a spot or two. The team did a really good job. You know how great of a run that is for us.”

Daniel Hemric – Finished 32nd: “Obviously the results and the finish isn’t at all what we came here to do, but we started the race too far off and we lost so many laps there the first run and that put us behind for the rest of the night. With it going green like it did, I didn’t get to show how much better we got our Camaro ZL1 there throughout the race. I thought we could take off in top-15 speed after we got to work on it for the first time. It just took us getting to pit road to give us that opportunity.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 37th: “Richmond Raceway is one of my favorite tracks and to run just outside the top five, get assessed a pit-road penalty and then battle back onto the lead lap says a lot about this No. 31 Childress Vineyards Camaro ZL1 team. It’s unfortunate on the restart with 30 to go that we got into the back of a car. Everyone started checking up, and I just hit him square in the back. I did all I could, but the damage cost us our race. I’m just so disappointed right now. We had a good car and a finish that doesn’t reflect it.” 

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Late cautions help Chase Elliott to yet another runner-up finish

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Chase Elliott‘s Cup career will always be measured against Bill Elliott’s, his Hall of Fame father.

Saturday night at Richmond Raceway, the third-year driver matched his father in a stat both impressive and underwhelming.

Elliott, who remains winless, finished second for the eighth time in 86 Cup starts.

Bill Elliott was a runner-up eight times before visiting Victory Lane.

But Chase Elliott, whose result was aided by a series of late-race cautions, was the first to admit it wasn’t a product of the team having turned the corner completely in a mostly disappointing season.

“A very fortunate (set of) circumstances there at the end for us with the way the restarts went and having a short run there at the end, definitely in our favor,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “It’s nice to be on the good end of things for the first time in a while. We have to be realistic about how we ran tonight. The result shouldn’t weigh in to how hard we worked this week because we have some work to do.”

Though he started a season-best second in the Toyota Owners 400, Elliott wasn’t a factor in the race’s outcome until he restarted in the top five for two restarts during final 11 laps. He finished seventh in Stage 1.

The second place was his second top five of the season (third at Phoenix) and just the fourth for HMS overall.

The No. 9 Chevrolet pulled off the feat despite not having crew chief Alan Gustafson, who was completing a two-race suspension for an L1 penalty after the Texas race.

In the first race without him, Elliott was involved in a Lap 3 crash at Bristol and finished 29th, 27 laps off the lead.

“I think we’ve been getting better, for sure, over the course of the past handful of weeks,” Elliott said. “I thought last week was really probably our best effort as a company. Obviously we crashed at the beginning. I felt like our car was solid throughout the whole weekend. Obviously, our teammates ran well.”

But Elliott said the team needs to be “realistic” about how the first night race of the season went.

“I think anybody amongst our team would say the same thing,” he said.  “I’m not knocking anyone, anybody on my team or whoever, but we all know we need to do better.”

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Points after Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway

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With his third consecutive win this season, Kyle Busch padded his points lead over Joey Logano with a victory in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. He now has a 56-point lead and 17 playoff points.

Logano won both stages of the 400-lap affair, his first stage wins of the season.

Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick finished third and fourth, respectively.

Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five.

Earning 39 points for his second-place finish, Chase Elliott is 25 points behind 16th and a playoff berth in the standings.

Click here for full results.

Results, stats for Cup race at Richmond Raceway

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Kyle Busch won his third consecutive race of the season after starting 32nd in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway, the deepest he’s began a Cup race and won.

Busch’s previous worst starting position in a win was 30th at Sonoma Raceway in 2008.

For the eighth time in his career, Chase Elliott finished second. That matches the number of runner-up finishes his Hall of Fame father Bill Elliott earned before winning his first Cup race.

Denny Hamlin finished third at his hometown track. Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.

Martin Truex Jr. was leading until a slow pit stop late in the race put him back in the pack. He finished 14th.

Click here for full results.