By Toby Christie, Editor — Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie
FORT WORTH, Texas — Ryan Blaney had victory on his mind heading into Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The 24-year old Team Penske driver, utterly dominated the NASCAR Xfinity Series event on Saturday, and early on Sunday, it looked like he was working his way into a position to contend for a weekend sweep at the 1.5-mile speedway in Fort Worth.
Blaney started fourth, and by the first round of pit stops on lap 44, he had worked his way to the second position. However, during this set of stops, his team had an uncontrolled tire violation. Blaney would have to return to pit road and would go a lap down.
With frantic racing in the opening stage though, caution flags flew frequently. As such, Blaney was able to get back onto the lead lap. When the checkers flew for Stage 1, Blaney was the final car on the lead lap in 14th.
The driver of the No. 12 Menards Ford Fusion worked his way back solidly into the top-10. He moved to sixth on a lap 129 pit stop, which came under a yellow flag period. But when the racing went back to green, Blaney’s car developed a vibration. The vibration continued to worsen and on lap 141, Blaney had no choice but to return to pit lane due to a loose wheel.
This dropped Blaney back through the field again, and trapped him a lap down, yet again.
Blaney would end Stage 2 in the 16th position, one lap down. When the green flag came out to begin the final Stage Blaney went to battle with Kevin Harvick — who also had dealt with horrid luck on pit road — for the free pass position. Blaney worked his way skillfully around Harvick, when chaos ensued. A seven-car melee broke out in front of Blaney, which brought out the caution flag and gave Blaney his lap back.
Unfortunately during this exchange, Blaney endured severe front end damage.
The damage would hinder his race car, but it wouldn’t dampen his heart as Blaney charged again. By the time the checkered flag was displayed after 334 laps — or 501 miles — of racing, Blaney had somehow, someway worked his way into fifth-place.
After a wild race, Blaney climbed from his battered race car. As he wiped the sweat from his brow, he surveyed the damage to his machine, then approached the media and remembered what all transpired during the day.
“We started off good. We were second there. We had an uncontrolled tire, and we had to come back in. Then we worked out butt off to try to get back up there,” Blaney explained, “We got a lap down there. Caution came out, we got the lucky dog. Then we got some damage when we got the lucky dog, then we were finally able…”
“it was just a long day. I never thought it was going to end. It felt like it was getting worse and worse.”
Overcoming the obstacles that he did for the top-five at least was a silver lining on a frustrating day, but Blaney just wants to know what kind of finish he could have gotten had his care not endured considerable damage.
“Good car, I hate it that we couldn’t see what we could do with a 100-percent intact race car,” said Blaney, “But it just shows the strength of this team and hopefully we can keep showing our speed in the coming weeks.”
Blaney — all of Team Penske really — has been great to start the 2018 season, although they have zero wins to show for their efforts. But they are knocking on the door as the series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway. Blaney will roll into Thunder Valley as the third place man in the championship standings.
Photo by Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images