Ryan Blaney was 17 laps away in Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 from making it three consecutive wins by Team Penske.
But with tires and fuel supply both wearing thin, there was little Blaney could do to keep from being passed by eventual race winner Kyle Busch.
“Honestly, we hung on better there on two tires than I thought we would,” Blaney said on Fox Sports afterward. “(We) fired off real good, got by Aric (Almirola) and we got Kyle a little bit.
“I was kind of riding, trying to save tires, save gas. They were telling me we were real close on gas. And I think (Kyle) was kind of riding back there, too. I think he knew what situation I was in.
“Then I started to get real tight and got the lapped cars and I was done. Then when we got passed for the lead, it was just full-on fuel save mode.”
Blaney was able to hang on for a third place finish, his best finish in the first four races of the season. His previous best finish was 22nd at both Atlanta and Las Vegas.
Blaney started from the pole, but ran into trouble on Lap 197 when he had to make an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel. However, he was able to make up some of the ground he lost by going for two tires in a regular pit stop on Lap 221.
He rode those tires for the final 89 laps, but he just didn’t have enough to hold off Busch, who made it a weekend sweep, having also won Saturday’s iK9 Service Dogs 200 Xfinity Series race.
“It was a good recovery,” Blaney said. “Two tires (on Lap 221) was the right call. I don’t think we would have run third if it weren’t for that.”
Now that he’s finally broken through with a strong showing, Blaney is hoping to continue that upward trend next Sunday at Fontana, California, and beyond.
“Definitely a good weekend after the start to the year we’ve had,” Blaney said. “This is where this team deserves to run. So hopefully we can just keep moving forward.”