Ryan Blaney
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Ryan Blaney: ‘We’re close’ to breakthrough win

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If not for an early spin and wreck at Bristol Motor Speedway last month, Ryan Blaney could be the owner of the best hot streak in the Cup Series through 12 races.

Instead, the Team Penske driver can simply take satisfaction in having top-four finishes in five of the last six races ahead of this weekend’s visit to Talladega, where he won last fall.

Blaney’s latest top five came Sunday night in Miami, where he drove his No. 12 Ford to a third-place finish behind race winner Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott.

It completed a week where Blaney finished fourth at Atlanta last Sunday and second in Wednesday night’s race at Martinsville. But it also left him as the only Team Penske driver without a win this year.

Not one to openly brag or complain, the 26-year-old driver knows he could be doing far worse.

“We could be running 20th every week,” Blaney said after Sunday’s race. “You’re proud of the runs that you’ve created and the speed our team’s got. I’m proud of that. … The way I look at it is, just keep running up towards the front like that, I think those things come.

“Just proud of the speed we have, that we’re close. Just little things will go a long way when you’re this close. If you have to find 15 spots worth of speed, that’s when it’s troublesome.”

Blaney’s front-running speed comes in his first season with crew chief Todd Gordon, who was shifted from Joey Logano‘s No. 22 team to Blaney’s in the offseason.

Blaney observed that he and Gordon’s communication have led to key adjustments in recent races.

“I feel like Todd and I have gotten along really well,” Blaney said. “We’ve communicated great. The only thing that really stands out to me, some races we don’t start off very good. Atlanta and Martinsville we didn’t start off very good, but at the end of the race we were very good. …

“To be able to communicate like that kind of in the early part of our relationship has been really nice. I look back at a lot of the … bad finishes we’ve had, of me wrecking in Bristol, tire coming apart at Fontana, the caution coming out in Vegas, we’ve had some really strong runs. That’s something to be proud of. …

“It’s been a nice run we’ve been on here. I can’t wait to get that first win together here soon. The group deserves it.”

Blaney and the No. 12 team take their streak to Talladega, the superspeedway where Blaney earned his third Cup series win last fall in the playoffs.

He followed that up with second-place finish in February’s Daytona 500.

Unlike those two races, the series will race on the 2.66-mile track with a new rules package, a result of changes made by NASCAR in answer to Ryan Newman‘s violent wreck on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

Those changes include:

  • Elimination of aero ducts at superspeedway tracks.
  • Reduction in size of throttle body from 59/64” to 57/64” (superspeedways only).
  • Slip tape must be applied along the entire length of the lower rearward facing surfaces of the rear bumper cover and extension (superspeedways only).

A practice session originally scheduled for teams to get acclimated to the rules package was cancelled over the weekend, meaning their first time at speed with it will be when the green flag drops Sunday.

With the new package, Blaney hopes the runs drivers are able to make on another car “aren’t as big.”

“That was something that we talked about with NASCAR,” he said. “The runs were gigantic. We get hooked up, that made your runs even bigger. … There’s a fine line. You need the draft to work to where you get runs on cars, but not monstrous drafts where it’s dangerous to kind of block them and things like that. Hopefully we can find a fair in-between.”

Regardless of the rules package, Blaney recognizes his momentum from the last six races doesn’t mean much with the unpredictability of Talladega.

“That’s just a whole other beast,” Blaney said. “We say it all the time: you get caught up in someone else’s stuff, it’s just part of it. … As far as the momentum side, yeah, you feel good for sure, stringing together some decent runs. It’s hard to kind of carry that over to Talladega. You just never know what can happen.”

Xfinity playoff grid after Indianapolis

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Chase Briscoe‘s continued dominance of the Xfinity Series over the weekend on the Indianapolis road course ensured no additional drivers locked themselves into the 12-driver playoff field.

Through 13 races, Briscoe and four other drivers have qualified for the playoffs via race wins. Briscoe, who has five race wins, leads the field with 28 playoff points.

The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Riley Herbst (+19 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+6 points).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-6), Alex Labbe (-32), Jeremy Clements (-49) and Josh Williams (-57).

Cup Series playoff grid after Brickyard 400

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With Kevin Harvick‘s victory Sunday in the Brickyard 400, no additional drivers locked themselves into the Cup Series playoff field.

But there was some movement at the bottom of the playoff grid as drivers jockey to make the 16-car field.

After he missed the race due to his COVID-19 diagnosis, Jimmie Johnson fell from 12th to 15th on the grid. He’s now 36 points above the cutline.

Matt DiBenedetto earned stage points in each stage before finishing 19th. He moved from 14th to 12th in the standings.

After earning stage points in both stages Sunday, Austin Dillon has cracked the top 16, moving up one spot. He has a six-point advantage over Erik Jones, who crashed out of Sunday’s race and had a 14-point advantage over Dillon entering the weekend.

With his ninth-place finish Sunday, Bubba Wallace is now within reach of the top 16. He sits at 19th, 42 points back from 16th.

Here’s the full playoff grid.

Oval or road course? Cup drivers address future of Brickyard 400

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For 27 years, the Cup Series has competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with its annual Brickyard 400. All 27 of those races have been run exclusively on the track’s traditional 2.5-mile oval.

But following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race on the track’s 2.4-mile, 14-turn road course, an obvious question has been raised:

Should the Brickyard 400 remain on the oval, where passing is made difficult due to a combination of the rules package and the design of the track, or should moving it to the road course be considered?

“I would never vote for that,” Kevin Harvick declared last week before he won his third Brickyard 400 on Sunday. “I love everything about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For me it is all about the oval … racing on the traditional track because for me I am kind of old school and I think that the Cup cars belong and really started the Brickyard 400.

“That was kind of what it was always meant to be, that iconic one-off, just the Cup cars event. I think with the Xfinity cars and the trucks and (ARCA Menards) cars and all the things that used to race at IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park), it was a great event. Hopefully the road course can kind of take that role that IRP used to have and be able to bring the Indy cars and NASCAR together to add to that event at the Speedway. For me personally, I would never vote for the Cup cars to not run on the oval.”

Harvick is joined in that camp by his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Aric Almirola, who finished third in Sunday’s race for his first top five and top-10 finish at Indy.

“I hope that we never stop running the oval,” Almirola said. “I just think it’s one of these places that regardless if it puts on the greatest race or not, it’s historic. It’s just a special place. It’s hard to explain when you don’t grow up a racer and you don’t aspire to come to race at Indy.

“But for me, I grew up watching stock car racing and dirt sprint car racing. I grew up watching Thursday Night Thunder, seeing so many guys go from USAC racing and sprint car racing to racing at Indy. It’s something I’ve always kept up with, always dreamed about getting the opportunity to race here. I get that opportunity now.”

Matt Kenseth, who finished second Sunday in his 20th Brickyard 400, said the Cup Series “should be” on the oval. But the Chip Ganassi Racing driver is open to the idea of Cup using the road course in some manner.

 “I think it’s one of those racetracks that we need to race at as long as we can,” Kenseth said of the oval. “It’s arguably the most famous speedway in the world, or one of them.

“To be able to race on the ovals with the Cup cars, which is the highest form of stock car racing here, we should be on the big track as well. I don’t think it would be bad to maybe test the road course and look into it, maybe do a second race on a road course, kind of like the IndyCars did this week.

“I really do think the Brickyard 400 has a lot of prestige. It’s not a southern race, but similar to the Southern 500, races like that. I think there’s a few of those races you sure would hate to see disappear.”

Crew chief describes ‘frightening’ scene on pit road at Indy

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Crew chief Todd Gordon said it was “frightening” to see rear tire changer Zach Price hit on pit road and then try to scoot away from cars during Sunday’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Price, who changes tires for Ryan Blaney’s team, was injured when he was struck by Brennan Poole’s car during a melee near the entrance of pit road early in the race.

Gordon, speaking Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, said indications are that Price’s injury was a “fracture someplace in the knee area.”

Price was treated and released from an Indianapolis hospital on Sunday night and traveled home with the team. Gordon said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Price was scheduled to see a doctor Monday.

“Just hope to get him back and get him back going again and healthy,” Gordon said.

Gordon described what he saw as cars made contact.

“A really frightening moment for me,” he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I was really terrorized when I saw (Price) drag himself back across the pit box arms only for a while there. As the situation kind of progressed and the medical staff was working with him, I could see in his face he was better off than I thought he was to start with.

“Fortunate that the guys got up and got at least in the air. The jackman (Graham Stoddard) got on top of the car. Just one of those terrible situations. I felt like those accidents happened mid-pit road. That’s why I picked way back there to be behind it.”

Said Justin Allgaier, who was involved in the accident on pit road that led to six cars eventually being eliminated:  “The No. 15 (Poole) actually got in the back of me. I didn’t know if I got the gentleman on (Blaney’s pit crew) or not. Once the wreck started happening in front of us and we all got bottled-up there, one car after another were getting run into.”

Indianapolis’ pit road is the most narrow of all the tracks the Cup Series races. The two travel lanes are 24 feet wide. The pit stall for each team is 15 feet wide.