By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
Over the past three weeks, Ryan Blaney hasn’t finished better than 18th, but on Saturday night at Kentucky, that all changed with a strong runner-up performance for the Team Penske driver.
“It’s a positive, that’s for sure,” said Blaney. “I thought we were in a good spot there restarting fourth and Martin struggled a little bit the first couple laps and I thought I could get by him, but just couldn’t quite get a run on him. His car came in and mine kind of faded a little bit and he won the race. That stunk.
“I thought we had a shot at it tonight, but I’m really proud of the gains we made all race though, to be honest with you. I didn’t think we were a second-place car at the beginning of the race, and we got a lot better throughout the night so Jeremy Bullins and everybody did a great job. I can’t thank DEX Imaging and Ford and Menards enough for what they do. You said it, after the last few weeks we’ve had this is a very good positive for us. Hopefully, we can keep it going in the right direction.”
After running at or near the top of the board in practice, Blaney qualified seventh for the Quaker State 400 and made quick work of the cars ahead of him to move into the top-five within the first laps of the race. Despite a loose handling race car, Blaney would stay in the top-five for the duration of the first stage, except for when green flag pit stops cycled through, finishing the stage in fourth place.
Stage 2 was more of the same, as the No. 12 team kept Blaney in the top-five and he finished the second stage in third place.
It was déjà vu once more when the final stage began as he ran fourth for much of the final half of the race before moving up to second place with 43 laps to go. Blaney gave it his best shot at trying to get past Martin Truex, Jr. for the lead, but in the end Truex was too strong and he had to settle for second place as the checkered flag flew.
In addition to breaking his three-week slump, Saturday’s finish marks Blaney’s best finish of the season as he heads to New Hampshire ranked 10th in points. Following the race at Kentucky, just seven races remain in the regular season.
“We’ve just got to keep working hard like we all have been at Team Penske and just keep trying to close that gap until we dominate races and we lead a bunch of laps. Hopefully we get there soon,” Blaney said.