Ryan Blaney kept his No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion among the top-fifteen for most of Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. He was poised to finish there before a blown tire with seven laps remaining sent him into the outside wall and out of the race. He wound up 35th, which leaves him 17th in the Sprint Cup standings heading into the circuit’s first off weekend of the season. He’s tied in points with fellow Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Chase Elliott, who is 16th. Elliott gets the higher spot because his best finish this season is higher than Blaney’s.
Blaney said the tire issue that put him out of the race caught him by surprise.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “There was no warning, and the tire just exploded into turn three.”
Up until that point, he had a good weekend going.
Racing at a track he’d never raced on before in NASCAR’s elite series, he qualified a respectable 14th, with his speed just .003 seconds shy of advancing to the final round of qualifying. In the race he ran as high as seventh and kept the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion among the top-fifteen. His best performances came toward the end of long green-flag runs midway through the race as he motored by drivers who had passed him earlier.
“We were good on some runs, but at the end of the race we weren’t very good,” Blaney said. “We really struggled bad on restarts. It would take about twenty laps to go back forward, but we just lost all of our track position and then got in the wall and that really hurt our race car.”
“We were going to salvage a decent day, and then the tire exploded.”
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said he appreciated the way Blaney persevered during the highs and lows of the race.
“Ryan ran really hard all day,” Wood said. “At times the car was to his liking and at times it wasn’t, but he kept digging just the same.”
Wood added that he’s not too disappointed given the team’s good fortune in the races leading up to Fontana.
“We’ve got a lot of good weekends behind us,” he said. “You’re going to have days that things just don’t work out.”
Now, Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team will enjoy a week off before heading to the Wood Brothers’ home track, Martinsville Speedway.
“I’d just as soon keep on racing and not take a week off,” Wood said. “But I’m not working on the car either. It has been a hard five-week stretch for the people who do, so they deserve a break.”
The team’s first trip to Martinsville since 2011 will include an open house at the Wood Brothers Museum in nearby Stuart, where Blaney and the original Wood Brothers will be signing autographs from 6:30-9:00 p.m. on Friday, April 1.
“Friday night will be a lot of fun for everyone. We’re really looking forward to seeing all the fans and be able to thank them in person.We’ve had so much support from them this year it's just beyond words,” Wood said.