By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Ryan Blaney came up short of capturing his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in Monday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, finishing a season-high third place after a stage two victory and led 145 of 500 laps.
The No. 12 Menards/Libman Ford Fusion started fifth and would stay inside the top-five for much of the afternoon.
Blaney wouldn’t take the lead for the first time until Lap 137, when he gained two spots on pit road and took the lead from stage one winner Denny Hamlin.
His lead was short lived as Hamlin quickly regained the top spot on the Lap 143. Blaney responded three laps later, as he passed the three-time Martinsville winner and checked out from the rest of the field.
No one was able to amount a serious charge against Blaney as he took the green-checkered flag and earned his second playoff point, his first since winning stage two in the Daytona 500 on February 18th.
During their pit stop under caution, the No. 12 team made a slight adjustment after Blaney reported his car being free on entry.
Once the race restarted on Lap 272, Blaney continued leading, but a hungry Clint Bowyer wasn’t going to make things easy on the 24-year-old from High Point, North Carolina. Bowyer took the lead for the first time on Lap 285 and never looked back.
Meanwhile, Blaney dropped to fifth, battling a tight handling car at center. After a Lap 384 caution for Austin Dillon running into the back of Jamie McMurray, sending him into the Turn 1 wall, Blaney pitted for fresh tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment.
Blaney gained two spots on his final pit stop, restarting third behind Bowyer and Kyle Busch.
The final 109 laps remained under green flag conditions as Blaney fell out of contention after Bowyer and Busch pulled away, continuing battling a tight car.
Bowyer took the checkered flag for the first time in 190 races. Blaney soldiered on to his best finish at Martinsville, improving from fifth to third in the series standings, trailing Martin Truex, Jr., and new points leader Kyle Busch.
“It was a good showing for us, for sure. I think the track tightened up a good bit there towards the end and we just got a little bit behind. Congrats to Clint for winning that race,” Blaney said. “It was fun racing with him for a bit, but for us to come out of here and lead a bunch of laps, win a stage and run third here at Martinsville, where I usually run terrible, that says a lot about this team and the preparation that they did getting ready for this race. That’s nice to have, we just need to be a little bit better.”
Blaney’s best bid of capturing his first win at Team Penske could come into fruition at Texas Motor Speedway for the annual O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 on April 8th.
Last spring, Blaney won the first two stages, but finished in 12th after leading a race-high 148 of 334 laps. He improved his race result last November, finishing sixth for his first top-10 at the 1.5-mile circuit.