Though Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott are staging an intense battle in the race for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, they ran more like veterans than neophytes on Sunday.
Blaney planted himself firmly in the top 10 for most of the afternoon and rolled home sixth, the best finish on an open-motor track of his young career. It was also a welcome comeback from a late wreck that ruined a promising day last week in Atlanta.
"Very significant," Blaney said of his run in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford. "Especially after Atlanta last week, getting spun out on the last lap. Kind of got us down a lot. To come here and have a solid run all day really ups the spirits. This team is working very well together. We kind of had a trial run last year running part time. Now we brought in some new personnel this year. They've done a great job since Daytona.
"But just reps at the race track and consistency there, they've been doing a great job. (Crew chief) Jeremy Bullins is doing a fantastic job also. Both our organizations (the Wood Brothers and Team Penske) are working side by side. It definitely showed today. It's a big, big accomplishment for the Wood Brothers team today and hopefully gives us some good momentum for Phoenix (next Sunday)."
Elliott ran in the top five for a long stretch of the race, but he was unable to avoid the spinning car of Matt Kenseth during a pileup in Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 225. He finished 38th.
Elliott thought he should have been able to avoid the wreck.
"Just disappointed -- what a fast race car," Elliott said. "I appreciate everybody working hard. I feel like we made a lot of gains this weekend.
Just a terrible job on my behalf. That is pitiful. We've run three races and finished one. Just a bad job on my end. I ought to know better to miss a wreck like that."
Asked what he could have done differently, Elliott replied, "Got off the brake and missed it. Matt spun out, and I just did a bad job missing him. Just locked up the brakes and ran right into the back of him."