By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
A hard fought afternoon for Ryan Blaney wasn’t enough to advance into the Round of 8, coming up six points shy of beating Kurt Busch in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
After his fuel tank ran dry last Sunday at Talladega, where he finished 29th, Blaney came into Kansas in a must-win situation, as he was 22 points behind the cutoff.
Once the 267-lap contest got underway, Blaney’s red No. 12 Menards/Wrangler Riggs Workwear Ford Fusion was among the early contenders, including leading the race after pitting for two tires under caution.
The new challenge was holding onto the lead as he had to deal with his Penske teammate Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick. In the closing laps of Stage 1, he faced that pressure.
With under six laps remaining, Logano got by Blaney after duking it out, not giving much leeway for the stage win. Two laps later, Harvick caught up and passed him in Turn 4, getting sideways along the way. While Blaney gained eight stage points and led nine laps, he still had some work to do, and was on the outside looking in.
Stage 2 was more of the same, keeping his car inside the top-five but couldn’t get to the lead as it was Kevin Harvick’s stage, gaining valuable stage and playoff points. Meanwhile, Blaney crossed the line in second. During pit stops, the No. 12 team made a wedge and air pressure adjustment and exited out in fourth to start the final stage.
From there, Blaney’s Round of 8 aspirations hit its highs and lows. At one point, Blaney was down by six points, but an uncontrolled tire by Busch put him ahead the cutoff line and was still running in the top-three in the process.
Not only that, Blaney began pushing his car to the limit, a bit too hard as shown on Lap 205. While running in third, Blaney scraped the Turn 3 wall, sustaining right rear damage, but kept on trucking. On the other hand, it led both Harvick and Chase Elliott to pull away.
Blaney said the wall impact was his own doing and ended up costing him.
“Obviously it was a mistake I made trying to work hard to catch those guys and I pushed too hard and got in the fence. It is all my fault,” Blaney said. “Whether it would have worked out for us or not, I don’t know. I don’t think we had the speed the 9 or 4 had.”
With 52 laps remaining, Blaney was just two points to the good, but that’ll all change. Laps later, Blaney began regressing and with just 35 laps remaining, Busch was three points ahead of him for the eighth and final spot.
The faster cars of Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Erik Jones passed Blaney and his shot of scoring another elimination race win like he did at the Charlotte Roval became doubtful. By Lap 245, the No. 12 Ford was shown in sixth as Brad Keselowski, who was also in a must-win situation after also running out of fuel last Sunday, was hot on his tail.
Ultimately, Blaney lost sixth to his teammate, as Elliott went on to win for the third time this season and his bid for championship was officially over. The other three drivers eliminated were Keselowski, Larson and Alex Bowman.
Fault included, Blaney added that his car wasn’t fast enough to put him in an excellent spot for the win and advance into the next round.
“The 9 was super fast. I don’t know. I messed up and cost us a shot,” Blaney said. “I want to thank Wrangler and Menards and Ford for doing what they do. The whole 12 team deserves better than that. That was unfortunate on my part.”
Team Penske’s bid of their second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship is now in the hands of Logano, as the Round of 8 opener takes place at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia Oct. 28, where Blaney finished third in the spring race.