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

1 Comment

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

MORE: Results, stats for O’Reilly 500 at Texas; Jimmie Johnson scores first win of 2017

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.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Grant Enfinger wins Truck pole at Gateway

Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images
Leave a comment

With a speed of 138.867 mph, Grant Enfinger scored his second career Camping World Truck Series pole and will lead the field to green tonight for the Eaton 200. His first pole came on the restrictor plate Daytona International Speedway in February 2016.

Noah Gragson set a track record in round two of qualification with a speed of 139.035 mph. He slipped to third in the running order during round three.

Enfinger beat Christian Eckes (138.594 mph) by .064 seconds. Eckes is making only his second start in the Truck series. Last week he started ninth and finished eighth at Iowa Speedway.

Gragson (138.402), Justin Haley (138.325) and Ben Rhodes (138.211) rounded out the top five.

Johnny Sauter (137.358) failed to advance to the final round of qualification and will start 13th.

Camden Murphy and BJ McLeod failed to qualify.

Click here for the complete lineup.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyle Larson won his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and will lead the field to the green flag for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Martin Truex Jr. will line up alongside Larson on the front row.

Chase Elliott qualified third, the best of three Hendrick Motorsports drivers who advanced to the top 12. Jamie McMurray qualified fourth to place both Chip Ganassi Racing on the first two rows.

AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five.

Click here for full qualification results.

 

Kyle Larson wins pole for Sonoma Cup race

Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyle Larson posted a lap of 94.597 mph to win the pole for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350. It was his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and the sixth of his career.

Larson beat Martin Truex Jr. (94.484 mph) by .090 seconds.

Chase Elliott (94.461), Jamie McMurray (94.227) and AJ Allmendinger (93.925) rounded out the top five. He was fastest in round one of qualification with a speed of 94.477 mph.

Hendrick Motorsports placed three of their drivers in the final round. Jimmie Johnson (93.824) qualified seventh. William Byron (93.756) qualified eighth. Alex Bowman (93.267) qualified 17th.

In his first race back since Matt Kenseth took over the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Trevor Bayne barely missed advancing to the final round. With a speed of 93.455 mph, he qualified 13th.

Clint Bowyer (93.252) was unable to back up his time from Friday’s practice and will roll off the grid 19th.

Click here for full qualification results.

For Clint Bowyer, Sonoma Raceway is a lot like Martinsville

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Clint Bowyer didn’t grow up road racing; he cut his teeth on dirt tracks in the Midwest. And yet, he had an immediate affinity for Sonoma Raceway. In his second start there, while driving for Richard Childress in 2007, he finished fourth.

In fact, Bowyer enters the Toyota/SaveMart 350 with seven top-five finishes in 12 starts that includes a runner-up finish in last year’s Sonoma race. If not for a couple of misfortunes (crash damage in 2010 and an electrical problem in 2016), he might well have swept the top 10 since scoring that first top five as a sophomore.

Perhaps the reason for that immediate success is that he considers Sonoma to be a twisted version of Martinsville Speedway – a track on which he won this March to snap a 190-race winless streak.

“I think you embrace this track and road racing in general just like you do Martinsville,” Bowyer said on Friday before heading out to put his No. 14 Ford at the top of the first practice speed chart. “Nobody shows up at Martinsville and goes to the top of the board and is fast and has success and navigates traffic to win that race right off the bat. It just doesn’t happen and it doesn’t happen here either.”

His Sonoma success has not translated to road courses in general, however.

Yes, Bowyer swept the top five on NASCAR’s two road courses last year, but the fifth-place finish he scored at Watkins Glen International was only the second of his career on a track that many drivers consider to be less technical than Sonoma. In 12 starts there, he has earned only five top 10s.

“Watkins Glen is so fast. It is just dive-bombs and you are really carrying a lot of speed at a place like Watkins Glen.

“Here, it is like that short track. It is like being at Martinsville. Did you see my car at the end of the race last year? It was destroyed. I drove up through and passed the field twice because of mistakes that we made and got spun out once. It was a wild race to be able to finish second. You can’t do that at Watkins Glen. That car wouldn’t have ran in the top 10 at Watkins Glen.”

Nine different drivers have won at Sonoma in the last nine races. Given the dominance of Harvick (who won last year) and Kyle Busch (the 2015 winner), many think they are the most likely to end that streak. But Bowyer also has an opportunity to end the streak of unique winners. He won the 2012 edition of this race by holding off Tony Stewart – the driver with the second-most road course wins in NASCAR history.

“You have to be able to have fun on this race track,” Bowyer said. “It is a challenge. Each and every corner is different. There is no perfect setup or perfect line. It is literally one of the only tracks you go to where you are out there racing and have a smile on your face. You might even get a chuckle.”