Ryan Blaney’s performance Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway was something the Wood Brothers had not experienced in half a lifetime.
Half of Blaney’s lifetime that is.
The 22-year-old Blaney was 11 years old the last time the Wood Brothers accomplished back-to-back top-10 finishes. Blaney’s 10th-place run Sunday at Phoenix followed his sixth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway the week before.
The last driver to score consecutive top-10 finishes for the Wood Brothers? Ricky Rudd. He accomplished the feat with ninth-place results in Oct. 2005 at Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Blaney’s success this season is just part an intriguing rookie battle with Chase Elliott — something that hasn’t been seen too often in recent years among the rookie class.
With a rookie field that includes Chris Buescher, Brian Scott and Jeffrey Earnhardt, Blaney and Elliott have had the greatest success in the season’s first four races. Both Blaney and Elliott have a pair of top-10 finishes this season after Elliott placed eighth at Phoenix.
This could be a race worth watching as the season progresses.
— A theme is emerging after three races on non-restrictor plate tracks.
Hendrick Motorsports has scored eight top-10 finishes and four top-five finishes in the first three races on non-plate tracks. Joe Gibbs Racing, which won both races that had the low downforce package last season, has six top-five finishes and seven top-10 results. Stewart-Haas Racing is next with two top-five finishes and five top 10s.
For Joe Gibbs Racing, this continues a remarkable streak. The organization has had at least one car in the top five in each of the past 26 Cup races. The last time a Cup race didn’t have a Gibbs car in the top five was Pocono last June. The top Gibbs car that day was sixth.
Think about that. Twenty-six races is the length of a “regular season” in the series.
Sunday’s race at Phoenix — Carl Edwards was second, Denny Hamlin third and Kyle Busch fourth — marked the second time this year JGR has had three cars in the top five. The Daytona 500 was the other race.
During the 26-race streak, Joe Gibbs Racing has scored 12 wins, seven runner-up finishes, eight third-place finishes, eight fourth-place finishes and 11 fifth-place finishes.
— The first four races of the season have been won by Joe Gibbs Racing (Daytona 500), Hendrick Motorsports (Atlanta), Team Penske (Las Vegas) and Stewart-Haas Racing (Phoenix). Those four teams combined to win 35 of the 36 races last season. Furniture Row Racing with Martin Truex Jr. was the only team to break the stranglehold of those four teams.
Also, those four teams, have won 49 of the last 50 Cup races, since A.J. Allmendinger‘s win in 2014 for JTG Daugherty Racing at Watkins Glen International.
— Kyle Busch has won all three Xfinity races he’s started this season and nine of the past 17 Xfinity races he has started since returning from his injuries last season.
— Does history repeat this weekend? Each of the last three Sprint Cup races at Auto Club Speedway ended with a last-lap pass for the win.
In 2013, Kyle Busch took the lead on the last lap after Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin tangled while battling for the top spot.
Last year, Brad Keselowski passed Kurt Busch on the last lap of overtime to win. It was the only lap Keselowski led.
— NBC Sports’ Parker Kligerman still is the points leader in the Camping World Truck Series. The series did not race at Phoenix and is off this weekend, so he keeps his spot a little longer. In the Xfinity Series, Daniel Suarez remains the points leader. In the Cup series, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are tied for the points lead, but Harvick owns the tiebreaker with his Phoenix win.