With their playoff hopes seemingly on the ropes due to a penalty after qualifying, Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 Omnicraft Auto Parts team turned in a near-perfect performance in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Blaney started 40th, drove his way to fourth place by the end of the first 80-lap Stage, finished eighth in the second then third in the race to secure a berth in the Round of Eight in the Monster Energy Cup playoffs.
Team co-owner Eddie Wood had great praise for the entire Omnicraft Auto Parts team and was especially impressed by Blaney’s poise under the pressure that comes with a cut-off race in the playoffs.
Wood said Blaney made smart decisions driving his way to the front, something only the greatest of drivers seem to know how to do.
“That was a David Pearson run right there,” Wood said. “Ryan knew what he had to do. He raced hard, but he was mindful of what was going on around him. He missed the wrecks. It was just a tremendous effort.”
Wood also complimented crew chief Jeremy Bullins on his race strategy throughout the day, including one call to leave Blaney on the track near the end of Stage Two, a call that led to three important bonus points.
“Jeremy did a great job calling the race, and the pit crew did a great job, getting Ryan back on the track in good shape despite operating from the least-desirable pit box,” Wood said, adding that none of it would have been possible without the Woods’ alliance with Team Penske. “Their help is second to none.”
Due to the penalty after qualifying, Bullins got the 40th pick of pit stalls for Sunday’s race.
Still, when the points were totaled, Blaney, with his third-place finish and 10 stage points, was in seventh place, 23 points about the cut-off.
He will open the Round of Eight in seventh place with nine playoff points from his win at Pocono and four stage wins.
Blaney, who now has four top-five and 12 top-10 finishes on the season, said Sunday’s comeback was a total team performance.
“Having a pretty fast car there at the end, really all race, shows some pretty great resilience from the Wood Brothers team,” he said. “It definitely feels good to be moving on, for sure.”
Blaney said good fortune was on his side when he dodged the Lap 199 multi-car crash that collected several of his fellow playoff drivers.
“Some of that is luck, for sure, being on the bottom, being able to get clear of that,” he said. “I think we've done a great job this year.”
Blaney went on to say that despite the seriousness of Monster Energy Cup racing, he’s enjoyed his time with the Wood Brothers and the Omnicraft team.
“I would say this is probably the most fun I've ever had racing with anybody, no matter what car,” he said. “They just make it a really fun year. Just to be competitive, still be in this [playoff] thing, that's just a bonus, to be honest with you.”
And so far, he’s exceeded whatever hopes he might have had prior to the season.
“I didn't really have any goals, expectations,” he said. “I just wanted us to do well, see where it ended up.
“It's going pretty decent for us right now. Hopefully we can keep that going.”
Blaney will return to his familiar Motorcraft/Quick Lane colors for next Sunday’s race at the Wood Brothers’ home track, Martinsville Speedway.