Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team battled back from a pit-road penalty that sent Blaney to the back of the pack after the first stage and came home with a ninth-place finish in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
It was Blaney’s third top-10 finish in five races this season and the 14th of his brief 59-race Cup career.
Blaney’s No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion was strong from the beginning of Sunday’s 400-mile race that concluded NASCAR’s western swing. He moved from his 19th starting position into the top five during the opening 60-lap stage. By the end of the stage, he was ninth, earning two points. A penalty for removing equipment from his pits on the pit stop following Stage One sent him to the rear of the field, but he managed to stay on the lead lap through the entire second stage.
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said the penalty was assessed because one of the team’s gas cans slid just outside the pit boundary.
“We had a lot going on during that stop,” he said. “We were pulling tape from the front end and fixing damage to the right-front fender. It was kind of a freak thing, but Ryan did a great job keeping us on the lead lap, and the crew had some fantastic stops the rest of the race.”
After hanging on to the lead lap through Stage Two, Blaney restarted 13th for the start of the third and final segment of the race. He was a top-10 and top-15 contender throughout. The Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew was at its best as the laps wound down, and on the final “money stop” gained Blaney four spots on pit road, which put him in sixth place with five laps to run.
One final caution sent the race into overtime, and Blaney lined up fifth for the run to the finish and wound up ninth.
“Most restarts worked in our favor except the last one,” Blaney said. “We just got put three-wide there and kind of got hurt. Not a bad day for us coming back from that pit-road penalty. That was pretty good.”
Blaney’s finish preserves his seventh-place position in the Cup standings heading into this weekend’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, home track for his Wood Brothers team.