Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway was one of those days in which Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion team were reminded of the old saying about how close doesn’t count.
The team had the right pit strategy to finish in the top 15 or better, but the breaks they needed seemed to always happen a few laps too late, and Blaney wound up a disappointing 28th at the finish.
Blaney started the 400-lap race from the 29th position after qualifying was rained out and the line-up set by practice speeds from Friday. He struggled with a tight handling condition during a long green-flag run that opened the race. He went a lap down, but by pitting early he was able to rejoin the lead lap as others began to follow the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion down pit road.
From then on, it seemed that no matter how hard Blaney and his Jeremy Bullins-led team worked on their race strategy, the caution flags fell too late to be a benefit to them, even though Blaney was able to drive up to 20th just past the halfway point.
“Everything we tried to do, whether it was to try to get the free pass or take the wave-around, didn’t work out,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said. “We were really close several times. Ryan would be in the free pass position, and just before the caution flew he’d lose the spot because his car would get tight and he couldn’t hold on.”
“Then we tried the wave around, and the cautions didn’t fall at the right time for us there until late in the race when there weren’t enough laps left to make up many positions.”
“We just never got the track position we needed to move up,” he said. “And for the second-straight race we were hampered on late-race restarts by being in the lane that didn’t take off when the green flag dropped.”
Blaney said in his post-race interview that he’ll look at Sunday’s race as learning experience and move on.
“We have to go back, and I have to do a better job and we all have to figure something out here for the next race,” he said. “It is a good learning day though, and we learned a lot and it is a good character builder for sure.”
Wood said he’s leaving Richmond optimistic that the team will rebound this upcoming weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.
“Things don’t always fall your way,” he said. “That’s just the nature of racing. We’ll load up, go to Talladega and do it all over again.”