By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
It wasn’t an ideal result both Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman who were two of the heavy hitters late in the going during Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Following two-time stage winner Chase Elliott’s bid of scoring his seventh career NASCAR Cup Series win went haywire due to a cut tire that saw him make wall contact in Turn 1 on Lap 221, the spotlight shifted to those two determined competitors.
Blaney showed tremendous muscle, but Bowman came into race win picture during the 36-lap green flag run after Elliott’s incident. It was anything but easy as they had to deal with Joey Logano.
With both being much faster in the long haul, it saw Blaney cutting down the deficit and ultimately taking the lead from his Penske teammate on Lap 255. Bowman would also get by Logano with nine laps remaining and it appeared the battle for the victory would boil down to he and Blaney.
Then came the eighth caution of the afternoon with just five laps to go after Ross Chastain, who was filling in for Ryan Newman, spun in Turn 1.
In a turn of events, the race deciding moment unfolded in the three-lap caution period as pit strategy varied. Both Blaney and Bowman sacrificed their valuable spots by diving into the pits for fresh tires, hoping it’s the best decision.
Meanwhile, Logano and William Byron stayed out, claiming the front row for the final restart while the two who pitted, lined up outside the top-10 with Blaney being 12th and Bowman 14th.
The 400-mile contest came down to the final two laps as Blaney got a push by Bowman and looked to be the strongest for a possible winning run. Coming down to Turn 3, chaos ensued in front of him as Blaney frantically tried pick pocketing the field, but it was short lived.
As the field took the white flag, Blaney was an innocent bystander after both Byron and Erik Jones tangled. This led Byron bouncing off to Blaney, damaging his No. 12 Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang, notably on the left side.
Further back, Bowman escaped from the nerve wracking five-wide battle, which kick started an accident that saw John Hunter Nemechek spinning and it warrant NASCAR to bring out the final caution, giving the race win to Logano for the second straight year in “Sin City.”
Damaged car and all, Blaney was credited with an 11th place finish after leading 19 of 267 laps while Bowman would end up 13th.
None too pleased on the result, Blaney understood he was in a “crappy” situation, especially when he knew that he was in excellent position of holding off Bowman in the closing laps but the caution for Chastain changed the outcome of his afternoon.
“We fight our butts off to get the lead there from third and get it. I had a good shot of holding the 88 off,” Blaney said. “I thought we could have once we got in clean air I thought our car was pretty decent. The caution came out and we pitted, some guys didn’t, some guys took two and we just end up getting absolutely destroyed with people not knowing how many cars were to the outside of them.”
Bummed Bowman might’ve been with his result, he’s still proud of his No. 88 Llumar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE team, who were strong all afternoon to put him in excellent position for a possible second career Cup win.
“We were really tight over the bumps and kind of free everywhere else, so that kind of hindered me from being able to move around,” Bowman on his performance. “This places frees up as you move up lanes, so I had to run the bottom and really couldn’t move up. We made good adjustments all day and by the end, I was able to run the bottom or the top. I was able to run down the leader there pretty quick.
“It was just one of those untimely cautions and just read it a little wrong there. It’s unfortunate to not end up with a top-10, but I’m really proud of my guys. Having a shot at winning these things is really all you can ask for and this one just didn’t work out for us.”
Additionally, the man 14th in points praised the new Camaro that saw six drivers finish in the top-10, the most among the three car manufacturer’s on the grid.
“For its first time on a downforce track, I’m just really pleased with it so far,” Bowman said. “I think it’s going to be really good for us. Obviously, I’m bummed out to finish thirteenth after starring at a second-place or a win. But it’s part of it; it’s how racing goes. We win as a team and lose as a team. It just didn’t go our way there at the end.”
As far as whether or not pitting was the right call, Bowman said who knows if staying out would’ve meant career win No. 2 or not.
“It’s easy to say we should have stayed out, we would have won. Yeah, we probably would have, but if (Blaney) would have stayed out, he could have one too,” Bowman said. “It’s just one of those deals that can go either way. Having to make those calls from on top of the pit box is a tough call to make. I was all on board; I thought we were making the right one.”
Blaney, who’ll leave Las Vegas with a three-point lead over Logano, commented that the decision for crew chief Todd Gordon to make was tough, but who’s to say if the payoff of staying would’ve worked.
“It’s easy to look back on it and say we should have stayed out,” Blaney said. “That’s a tough call for Todd in his position, but I’ve got to thank him for giving me a really good car. We were great on long runs. We were so good on long runs and that’s something to hold our heads up high about, it just stinks about the finish.”
The “West Coast Swing” soldiers onto Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California March 1 as both will seek for their first win at the two-mile oval.