Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team showed Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway that despite a disappointing 12th-place finish they’re capable of being a major player in NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series.
Blaney, starting from the outside pole, bolted into the lead for the first time after just 15 laps and went on to dominate not only the first 85-lap Stage but the second Stage as well.
Blaney’s 148 laps led were the most of any driver in Sunday’s race and by far the most of his 61-race career as he had led just 33 laps heading into Sunday’s race.
By winning both stages, Blaney earned two playoff points, the first of his career, and his 20 points earned in the first two stages pushed his total for the day to 45, which propelled him from seventh to sixth in the Cup standings.
But despite the successes of the first half of the race, the second half didn’t play out as planned for Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team. His pit stop at the end of the second stage put him in 20th place for the restart, and he became entangled in a group of slower cars and lost ground that he was never able to regain.
“We got jumbled up in [turns one and two] and let a lot of cars get by,” Blaney said. “That was kind of the deciding factor I feel like.”
Blaney also expressed his support of crew chief Jeremy Bullins’ decision to stay on the track, with the lead, when a caution flag flew late in Stage Two, even though it meant that he eventually would have to restart in mid-pack after a pit stop.
“I thought we made the right call to stay out there and try to win that segment,” he said. “I'm for that.”
Blaney’s path forward also was hindered by a run-in on the track with the lapped car of Corey LaJoie and by a late pit stop that went bad when he initially drove over the boundary line of his pit stall and lost some time.
But for team co-owner Eddie Wood, the takeaways from the day were overwhelmingly positive, and he had great praise for Blaney and Bullins.
“Jeremy gave us a really, really fast race car,” Wood said. “He’s consistently done that, and that’s huge when you look at how many 1.5 mile tracks like Texas are coming up on the schedule. And Ryan drove a heck of a race”.
“We just weren’t able to finish it off, but we’re getting closer.”
Even though he also was disappointed by the late-race turn of events, Blaney, like Wood, was looking at the Texas trip as a sign of good things to come for him and his team.
“I think it says a lot about this Motorcraft/Quick Lane team about how good a car we had today,” he said. “If you had asked me yesterday I wouldn’t have said we would win two stages and have one of the fastest cars.”
“They made really good changes this morning, and that definitely says a lot. I am excited to get to Bristol in a couple weeks and see what we can do.”
The Motorcraft/Quick Lane team will be idle next weekend for Easter then return to work the following weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.