Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing team finished an impressive eighth in overtime in the First Data 500 at chilly Martinsville Speedway and improved their position in the NASCAR Playoffs standings from seventh to sixth, six points behind the Round 3 cutoff.
The result at the paperclip was Blaney’s best in four attempts and his 13th top-10 finish of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season. It couldn’t have come at a better time – the first race of the Playoffs semi-final round.
Blaney started fourth after a strong race-day qualifying effort and spent most of the day running in the top 10. He finished Stage 1 in seventh place and tallied four critical stage points.
In Stage 2, he re-started seventh and quickly passed seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson for sixth position and stayed there for the duration of the segment. For that, he collected five additional stage points.
“I felt the first half of our day was pretty good,” Blaney said. “We lost a lot of handle the second half after the second stage and really were struggling. On short runs I thought we were okay for 20 laps or so.”
Despite his struggles, Blaney stayed in the top 10 for most of the final segment and did some spirited racing with fellow Ford driver Kevin Harvick. He managed to stay within striking distance of the lead through the last several re-starts before getting caught up in a multi-car wreck in the last half lap and skidded across the finish line after being bumped by a sliding Denny Hamlin. That took him from a probable fifth-place finish to eighth.
“The last handful of restarts were just pandemonium,” the young driver said. “It was pretty ridiculous with everyone wrecking each other and running into each other. I thought we were gonna make it through the last one, but we just kind of got caught up off of four in all that stuff. At least we salvaged a decent day. Honestly, a lot of cars got torn up, but we’ll go on to Texas where we’ve been pretty decent so we’ll see what happens.”
Blaney won the first two stages of the spring race at Texas Speedway before issues on pit road sent him back to a 12th-place finish. The AAA Texas 500, Sunday, Nov. 5 at 2 p.m., could be Blaney’s best chance in Round 3 to punch his ticket to the championship race at Homestead.
Ford Performance PR