By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
After encountering a vibration early on, Ryan Blaney raced his was back up to finish third in the opening Can-Am Duel race on Thursday night.
Blaney, 22, stayed among the leaders in the opening 15 laps of the 60 lap event, lingering around the top 5. Moments later the rookie felt a strong vibration that eventually led to him falling a lap down, but a spin by Cole Whitt forced a caution to come out on lap 44, putting Blaney back on the lead lap.
Following the restart, Blaney maneuvered the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford from the rear of the field back into the top 5.
The closing laps saw the 22-year-old pushing Joey Logano up to second and on the back of eventual race winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Knowing he was set to start in the Daytona 500 took a weight off of Blaney’s shoulders, and enabled him to focus on the comeback.
“Yeah, we knew we were locked in before,” said Blaney. “Kind of nice to know we raced our way in. We had a really fast racecar. We had a couple problems early in the race which got us a lap down. Luckily we got a caution at the right point that got us on the lead lap so we could go racing for it.
“We got in a couple good lines, a couple good guys behind us and in front of us. Joey [Logano] ducked down in the bottom. I thought I would give it a shot, see what happened. I think that was seven to go or eight to go. No one went with us at first. I was kind of discouraged. I thought we would finish about 15th. Then luckily some guys went with us, we were able to make some ground at the end. It was a good recovery for our race team.”
The early struggles were not lost on the driver of the famed No. 21, as he also touched on exactly what happened in the first half of the race.
“We had a loose left rear wheel. It slowly worked its way loose,” said Blaney. “Luckily we resolved that. What happened was, it was loose at the beginning of the race, and it worked itself loose. When we had to pit the first time, the studs are stripped. So all the air guns in the pits, they don’t tighten them up. They go to a certain pressure, then they stop, because that’s what they’re designed to do.
“When I went back out, I went six, seven laps, they were still loose. Had to come in again and actually torque them and make sure they was going to stay on there because we had damaged studs on it. Like I said, luckily we had that caution.
“It was just the product of a loose left rear wheel.”
By virtue of finishing third, Blaney is set to start the 58th annual Daytona 500 from the seventh starting spot.
Image: Jerry Markland/Getty Images