For the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team, a somewhat disappointing day at Atlanta Motor Speedway was much easier to take because their No. 21 Ford Fusion had the speed to finish much higher than the 18th place it wound up.
On Sunday, in the Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500, Ryan Blaney was on the march from the drop of the green flag, moving from his 14th starting position to seventh in the first 30 laps.
But just a few laps after his first pit stop he returned to pit road under the green flag due to a vibration. The Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew changed tires and returned him to the track one lap behind the leader, which ordinarily wouldn’t be cause for great concern.
But for the first two-thirds of Sunday’s race, caution flags, other than for the ends of the first two 85-lap stages, weren’t flying, and a timely yellow flag was what Blaney needed most to rejoin the lead lap.
Crew chief Jeremy Bullins tried several strategies, including short pitting, to regain the lost ground, but the timing of subsequent cautions rarely worked in his favor.
Making the situation even more frustrating for Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team was the fact that Blaney was holding his own, even when he was riding tires with far more wear than those of most of his competitors.
Still, when the checkered flag fell, with Blaney on pit road with another tire issue, he was still inside the top 20.
“With the way everything played out, I think we were pretty lucky to come away with an 18th-place finish,” said team co-owner Eddie Wood. “Ryan hung in there all day, and we’re proud of him for that. And the whole team kept battling all day even when it was looking like we were headed for a bad finish.”
As it is, Blaney is in eighth place in the championship standings, 27 points behind leader Kevin Harvick as Ford drivers hold four of the top five spots in the standings and five of the top eight. Ford drivers also have won the first two Cup races of the season with Kurt Busch winning the Daytona 500 and Brad Keselowski taking the checkered flag at Atlanta.
“It’s hard to be disappointed leaving Atlanta when Ford is two for two on the season,” Wood said. “And it was good to see our friends at Team Penske win the race for Ford at Atlanta after Kevin Harvick had problems late in the race. Kevin had a really fast car.”
Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team will be back on the track next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.