By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Ryan Blaney had an interesting Wednesday night at Martinsville Speedway to say the least. The pole sitter rallied from both falling a lap down and a pit road penalty to score a runner-up finish in the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500.
Although Blaney led the 39-car field to the green flag, he wouldn’t lead a lap up until Lap 272 as fellow Ford driver Aric Almirola took the lead right away. From there, Blaney regressed in the running order that he even fell a lap down to his Penske teammate Joey Logano, who won Stage 1.
“We started off really bad,” Blaney on the first half of Stage 1. “We went from starting on the pole to being a lap down in 60 laps. That’s kind of tough to do. We found a way to do that. We already dug ourselves a hole early.”
Fortunately, the 26-year-old veteran got his lap back and made the right adjustments to get his Mustang going and ended up 19th in the stage.
“After the first pit stop, we got our car a lot better, a lot better,” Blaney’s thoughts on the second half of Stage 1. “I think just the green racetrack didn’t really go well with what we had or something. We really wore our tires out. I had to run the top a lot, was getting passed. I don’t think that helped.
“After that I felt more competitive. We got the Lucky Dog there right before the first stage end. After that we drove all the way up to second. We had a great long-run car. That was great.”
In Stage 2, Blaney remained quiet over the radio as he was back in contention for a win after taking the green/checkered flag in second. Jimmie Johnson ended up scoring the stage victory.
Once the final stage got underway, Blaney took the lead away from Johnson and ended up leading 34 out of the next 57 laps. Blaney indeed faced tremendous pressure from Logano once again. This time for the lead where it got so intense, Blaney told Logano that he’s number-one.
Following the sixth caution for Erik Jones turning David Starr (who was making his first Cup start since Texas in 2018) around in Turn 1, Blaney’s night would take another hit. Not only he lost the race lead off pit road, his Penske crew also went over the wall too soon.
Once again, Blaney was forced to rally back but like in Stage 1, he would reappear in the top battle. In the end, he was no match to Martin Truex, Jr., who won the race by a whopping 4.705 seconds.
The hard fought effort certainly had Blaney thinking of what might’ve been for his No. 12 Menards/Cardell Cabinetry Ford Mustang as he still remains the only Penske driver without a win after 11 races.
“To be able to get the lead there at the start of the third stage, kind of biding our time, taking care of our stuff. Caution came out. We got a penalty on pit road. That set us all the way back again with not a lot of laps to go,” Blaney on his performance following the opening 130 laps. “We had 170 to go. Last restart we started ninth. (Martin) just got away from me. I couldn’t run him down. By the time I got to second, he was gone. My stuff was a little worn out having to pass a lot of cars.”
Wednesday marked Blaney’s fourth top-five finish out of the last five races as he’ll head into Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with more momentum.
“Really proud of the effort from the 12 group, from where we started to where we ended. I can always be happier, winning the race, but we made huge gains today,” said Blaney, who improved from seventh to sixth in the regular season standings.
“Atlanta was the same way. We didn’t start off great, but we got a lot better very quickly. That just shows what this team can do. I’m really proud of everybody on this crew.”
Following the race, Ryan made light of an ESPN graphic error where it showed his father Dave Blaney’s face and NTT IndyCar Series driver Will Power’s number font in the background. For the record, Dave’s best finish was third three times in his 17-year Cup career (1992, 1999-2014), taking place at Darlington in Spring 2003 and twice in the 2007 and 2011 Fall Talladega race.
— Ryan Blaney (@Blaney) June 11, 2020