By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Ryan Blaney and the No. 12 team had themselves quite an eventful day at Kansas Speedway. As has been the case most the season – and especially in the Round of 16 for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs – the third-generation driver put together a silently strong outing.
Entering the Hollywood Casino 400, it was difficult to get a good read on Blaney. At the last true 1.5-mile track (Charlotte Motor Speedway) back in May, the 29-year-old scored his first and only win of the season through 27 races.
Things appeared to be trending in the right direction to start the weekend, after Blaney put down the fifth-best overall time in practice. Unfortunately, speed was unable to translate into qualifying, as he would wind up taking the green flag from 17th.
By Lap 25, Blaney would hastily make his way into the top-10 and finish Stage One as the highest-scored Ford in fifth. Like many teams throughout the race, the driver of the No. 12 fell victim to a slow pit stop, in which his crew got hung up on the left-front tire and surrendered 14 spots to restart 19th in Stage Two.
In an effort to gain track position, crew chief Jonathan Hassler made the call, along with five other strategists, to stay out when a caution flew on Lap 127. Blaney made it as high as second on the restart, but his tires eventually caused him to fade as he battled loose conditions.
Fortunately, Blaney was able to hold on and finish Stage Two in seventh, which was pretty much where he ran for a good portion of the remaining laps. In total, he wound up with 10 stage points – tied for third-most among Playoffs drivers.
As the driver of the No. 12 continued to fight a loose-handling car, he appeared primed for a second consecutive top-10 with under five laps remaining … until an untimely caution shook things up.
After entering pit road eighth, Blaney would end up restarting 15th during overtime after the decision to take four tires with varying two-tire strategies and one who elected not to pit altogether.
While a four-tire call was a winning decision for Tyler Reddick, it was only enough for Blaney to finish 12th.
“Overall, not a bad day for our Wabash Ford Mustang,” Blaney said. Pretty decent on the short runs, and long runs we’d just kind of fall off a little bit too hard. Just felt super loose and lost a little speed.
“The last restart didn’t really work out for us. We took four (tires) and we started way in the back, and could only get to 12th. But, proud of the stage points we made, proud of the short run speed. Hopefully we can continue to learn. But, I feel decent about the cut-line.
“Just have to go to Bristol (Motor Speedway) and have another good night.”
Although the No. 12 team hasn’t had the flash or dominance others have displayed in the postseason, they’ve been consistent enough to leave Kansas sixth in the Playoffs standings 25 points to the good.
Heading into the Round of 16 finale at Bristol, Blaney does have a decent points cushion, but he’ll have his work cut out for him. In addition to the madness that spurs from night racing at Thunder Valley, good results have been hard to come by at the 0.533-mile short track.
Last year, Blaney finished 30th at Bristol. He also only has five top-10s and a 19.5 average in 13 starts there.
Conversely, speed has been fairly prevalent.
In 2021, Blaney matched his career-best finish at Bristol (fourth), albeit not with the Next Gen car, and has led nearly 500 laps between six of his last eight starts there.
With finishes of ninth and 12th in the Round of 16, respectively – and an average running position inside the top-10 for both races – Blaney will need to maintain consistency and composure going into the first Playoffs elimination race of the season.