By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Kyle Busch seemed to be unstoppable en route to the win Sunday at ISM Raceway, but Ryan Blaney sure put up a hell of a fight in an effort to give Team Penske a victory sweep on the day.
“We’ve been poised to have days like this, contend for wins and run top 5 it just hasn’t happened this year,” said Blaney. “We haven’t gotten the finishes we deserved and this is more like it, so that was good. This is a good place to start and hopefully we can keep on going.”
Starting the day on the pole, Blaney kept his No. 12 Ford out front for much of the first stage, eventually taking the stage win. Under the stage break, pit road was a busy place, with Blaney falling to 16th place after taking four tires, fuel, and adjustments.
Though he lost the track position at the front of the field, Blaney marched back to 11th by the end of the second stage.
Blaney found himself behind the eight ball once again at lap 196 when he had to make a second trip to pit road to tighten up loose lug nuts on his car, dropping him back in the pack for the ensuing restart.
Inside of 100 laps to go, Blaney had advanced up the leaderboard, but it was pit strategy on a late caution that gave him the break he was looking for.
Taking two tires, while others, including Kyle Busch took four, Blaney was within spitting distance of the lead, and by lap 240, he had moved into second place behind leader Aric Almirola. 12 laps later, he powered past Almirola and re-took the lead.
Once back in the lead, Blaney was able to gap the rest of the field for a while, but Busch was coming fast behind him and with 15 laps to go, Busch moved back to the top spot and set sail on his way to the win.
From that point on, Blaney had to make sure he had enough fuel to make it to the checkered flag, dropping to third at the finish, leading a total of 94 laps on the day – a season-high.
“We were on two tires and I just held on,” Blaney said. “Actually, ours held on a lot better than what I thought it was going to, but then when it got to 30 to go or 25 to go I got kind of tight and I couldn’t hit three and four anymore, and then I ran up on lap traffic and it absolutely killed me.
“Once we got passed, we were kind of close on gas, so it was full fuel save mode when you know you’re not gonna win the race. It was a good call to take two tires. I don’t think we would have got to third on four because it was hard to pass out there. I’m proud of this team. We needed that. That’s where we’ve been running all year, it just hasn’t been where we’ve been finishing.”