Cover photo by Rachel Schuoler / Kickin’ the Tires
(Las Vegas, NV) March 7, 2021 — After a struggle to the start of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, Ryan Blaney puts his Team Penske Ford Mustang in the top-5 in the Pennzoil 400 Presented by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Due to no practice or qualifying, the formula for starting positions reflect finishing results from previous events, fastest lap, and current points position. A 29th place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway and only one top-15 finish to start the year held him back on the qualifying charts. He started 26th. However, he did quickly climb up through the field and battled up front with his No. 12 Menards / Pennzoil Ford Mustang.
“It was a positive race after the struggle we had getting going this year with having three very bad races,” said Blaney. “We had good speed in our Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang, just didn’t quite have enough. We lost a little bit of time on that last pit stop. We kind of had a miscommunication thing, but I don’t think we were gonna catch the 5. He was the class of the field, but we made it a lot better. I was a little bit tight there at the end, but proud of Todd Gordon and everybody for not letting a few bad finishes get us down.
“Hopefully, we can start getting on a roll here.”
With the way this year has started, drivers who either haven’t visited Victory Lane or haven’t frequently won races are claiming the trophies early this season. This inevitably has placed more focus on other drivers in similar positions with their career. Blaney overcame that pressure with his four career wins to put himself back in position to capture another checkered flag.
“Todd Gordon and I were just talking,” Blaney shared about his crew chief. “There were four Gibbs cars in the top 10, two Hendrick cars and three Penske cars. Obviously, those guys are really fast right now. I thought our company struggled a little bit and we put in a lot of work this week to come here and be better, so I thought the performance side on Team Penske was really good, but there’s obviously a long way to go.
“It’s just nice to be close to where you’re not in left field and swinging at things, you’re just trying to tinker on some stuff.”
Blaney fought up to third in the Stage 1 and fifth in Stage 2 to gain valuable extra points to move himself up to 15th in the Cup points standings. During the caution of the conclusion to Stage 1, he did end up leading one lap as the field came down pit road.
“We definitely needed (a strong finish),” Blaney continued. “It was really nice to have a strong day. It just helps confidence with everybody. It helps with confidence with me, the team, everybody. It’s way better for a starting position next week, it’s better for points, it’s pit stalls — all that carries over now.”
In his sixth full-time season, Blaney looks to hunt down his fifth career victory as the Cup Series stays out west for one more round at Phoenix Raceway.