By David Morgan, NASCAR Writer
On Saturday night in America’s Heartland, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookies had their hands full with the treacherous 1.5 mile Kansas Speedway, but when the night ended, all four found themselves within the top-25, one of the best races overall for the rookies this season.
Leading the way for the 2016 rookie class was Ryan Blaney, who started the night in seventh place and only found himself outside the top-10 once during a round of green flag pit stops during the middle of the race. Though Blaney made it as high as third at one point, he was running in the bottom half of the top-10 with the race drawing to a close.
After the multi-car crash with 30 laps to go involving Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Larson, Blaney was able to make his way through the crash unscathed and into the top-five, finishing fifth when the checkered flag flew. Blaney’s fifth place run was his best finish of the season, topping his previous best of a sixth place finish at Las Vegas.
“It went smooth all day, really. I thought we were really good early in the race and as the night fell I felt like we lost a little bit of speed comparable to other cars that we were better than in the beginning of the race. They got a little bit better and we got better at the end there, but just needed a little bit more. That last run I thought we were sitting in a good spot. We started fifth and the top two were on old tires and I’m like, ‘We might be able to be all right,’ but we just couldn’t get by those guys and held on. It was definitely a solid day for us and something to build off of,” said Blaney.
Chase Elliott, who had been leading the way for the rookies for most of this season, had his work cut out for him for much of the night at Kansas, but by the time the night ended, he was the best among his Hendrick Motorsports teammates.
Elliott started 13th and dropped back to 20th in short order after the race went green due to an ill-handling car. On lap 117, Elliott made contact with the wall in his No. 24 Chevrolet making matters worse for himself. Though he was able to stay in the top-20, Elliott eventually went a lap down to the leaders just past the halfway point in the race, which he was able to get back at lap 170. For the remainder of the race, Elliott made his way back through the field and brought home a ninth place result, his seventh top-10 finish of the season.
We fought hard for that one, not the weekend we were lookin for though.
— Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) May 8, 2016
As for the other two rookies in the field, Chris Buescher and Brian Scott, both scored their second best finishes of the season on Saturday night in Kansas. Scott brought home a 22nd place finish, while Buescher ended the night with a 24th place finish.
Image: Jamie Squire/Getty Images