By Toby Christie, NASCAR Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas — For the first 170 laps of Sunday’s 334 lap O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, it was all Ryan Blaney. The 23-year old driver for the Wood Brothers Racing Team had led 148 laps — the first time that the No. 21 team has led more than 100 laps in an event since October of 1982 — But a caution near the end of Stage 2 set up a disappointing conclusion to the race for Blaney.
While Blaney opted to stay on track to rack up another Stage win, a huge chunk of the field pitted for tires and fuel. When the Stage ended a few laps later, Blaney and the other few cars that stayed out at the end of the stage finally came to pit road while 19 drivers stayed out.
This mired Blaney in the 20th position for the start of the final stage, and it took Blaney a long time to make a dent in his deficit.
“We got back in that third debris caution,” Blaney said. “I don’t know what it was there at the end of segment two and that made everybody have split strategies and we got in the back and couldn’t pass anybody. It was terrible to try to pass people.”
Blaney would methodically work his way up the leaderboard, but in the last 100 laps he began to lose his patience. A frustrated Blaney roughed up Corey Lajoie, who slowed his progress at one point. But Blaney found himself inside the top-10 with 30 laps remaining in the race. However a pit stop during the last caution period snuffed out any chance of a late-race rally.
“That last pit stop was pretty discouraging. We made our way up to seventh or eight and then pitted and I got into our box too long and we were wedged in between two cars. I was over the line by a few inches. That sucked. I put us in that hole. We probably should have stayed out looking back on it but that is easy to do.
The pit road gaffe sent Blaney back to 16th. He would battle back for a 12th-place finish, but it left everyone wonder what could have been had the 21 team just thrown away the bonus points for the second stage and opted to pit. Despite the disappointing finish, Blaney was very happy with the car his team brought to the track this week.
“I think it says a lot about this Motorcraft Quick Lane team about how good a car we had today,” Blaney explained optimistically. “If you had asked me yesterday I wouldn’t have said we would win two stages and have one of the fastest cars. They made really good changes this morning and that definitely says a lot. I am excited to get to Bristol in a couple weeks and see what we can do.”
Blaney, who had only led 33 laps through his entire Cup Series career going into Texas, heads into the off-week sixth in the championship standings.