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Pit miscue costs Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing a shot at Texas triumph
- Updated: April 9, 2017
By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor
For the first half of Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, the historic Wood Brothers Racing (WBR) team looked every bit as dominant as they were four decades ago on the newly-repaved Texas Motor Speedway. However, a late pit road miscue robbed the organization of a finish reflective of their speed.
Ryan Blaney was the dominant driver on the day, leading 146 of the opening 172 laps en-route to victories in each of the race’s first two stages, his first-career stage wins.
The sophomore appeared to be in strong contention for his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory when a caution late in Stage 2 left Blaney’s team with a difficult decision – stay out and have an opportunity claim a playoff point as a stage winner, or pit and cycle through to the lead after the stage?
In the end, WBR elected to stay out, a move that gave Blaney a second playoff point, but left him sitting outside of the top 10 after pit stops.
Despite the strategy play from his competitors, the strength of Blaney’s No. 21 Ford allowed the North Carolinian to slowly rise back up through the field on the newly-repaved Texas oval. The 23-year-old was running fifth on lap 300 of 334 when he slid through his pit stall on the day’s final round of pit stops, dropping him to 15th.
Mired back in traffic, Blaney would rise only to 12th before the checkered flag flew.
“It’s not where you want to finish,” Blaney said. “We deserved to finish third at worst. Our car, at its worst point was a third place car. You definitely think about that and are discouraged about that. At the same time you’ve got to look at the positives, and I think this is the most positive race we’ve ever had as a team, as a whole organization.”
Looking back on the day, Blaney defended his team’s pit strategy, citing the importance of stage results in the new championship structure.
“Once we got that caution before the second segment, a lot of guys pitted and there was a lot of mixed strategies, and we decided to try to win the segment, which I thought was important to get those point and an extra bonus point,” Blaney said. “I thought we had enough of the race to go to try to work our way back up through there, and I think we got to eighth or something like that before the last caution, and I slid through our pit box, and that was an unfortunate deal.”
While he didn’t get the finish he would’ve liked, victories in the race’s first two stages gave Blaney the fourth-most points scored on the day, as well as two precious playoff points to use if he can clinch a playoff spot this fall.
Afterward, Blaney took the positives away from his first stage victories.
“I think it’s really helpful for everybody,” Blaney said. “Helps you for the playoffs. It helps you throughout the race. You know, that was 20 points we gained right there. It’s just really, really helpful for your kind of long‑term outlook on things, and to go and hold the 4 and 78 off and then the 48 that last restart before segment 2, that showed how strong our car was.”