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.
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.”