Ryan Blaney has been in contention to win each of this season’s first three Cup races … until he wasn’t.
A disappointing start to the season for Blaney continued Sunday when he finished 19th in the Auto Club 400.
This is significant because he was in second place behind eventual winner Alex Bowman three laps from the end of the race. That’s when Blaney, who led 54 laps and won Stage 2, had to bring his No. 12 Ford to pit road to change a corded right rear tire.
“Racing happens. Just corded a right rear there at the end and gave up a good finish,” Blaney told Fox. “Just lost the lead. They got (Bowman’s) car better, I just got kind of too loose at the end there.”
The corded tire ruined Blaney’s shot at a top five a week after a visit to pit road ended his chances of winning in Las Vegas. Blaney was leading with six laps to go in that race when a caution came out for a Ross Chastain spin.
The Team Penske driver was a few feet away from winning the Daytona 500 two weeks ago. After his contact with race leader Ryan Newman caused Newman’s scary crash coming to the checkered flag, Blaney was nipped at the finish line by Denny Hamlin.
On Sunday, Blaney struggles began soon after he won Stage 2.
“We got swallowed up on a restart (with 72 laps to go) and had to drive our way back up there,” Blaney said. “That one didn’t work out in our favor … just an unfortunate end to the day, again. ”
There is a bright side to Blaney’s weekend in Fontana.
He entered the weekend leading the point standings, something he’d previously only done after the 2018 Daytona 500.
After earning 37 points, he heads to Phoenix still the points leader, topping Logano by 11 points.
In addition to trying to avoid more misfortune in the fourth race of the season, Blaney will seek redemption for last year’s spring race on the 1-mile track.
Blaney started on the pole and led 94 of 312 laps. That included a stretch of 44 laps late in the race before he lost the lead to Kyle Busch with 17 laps to go and finished third.