By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Despite a spirited battle for the lead with his teammate, Ryan Blaney ultimately ended up fifth at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
At the start of the final Stage of the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, Blaney hounded his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski for the lead. His No. 12 Menards / Tarkett Ford Mustang traded paint with Keselowski’s No. 2 eCascadia Ford Mustang. Blaney finally took the lead on lap 198, although the duo continued to battle for the next 10 laps.
With impending darkness threatening to shorten the scheduled 301-lap race, Blaney set out on stretching his lead. The early battle with Keselowski allowed Aric Almirola to close in late in the run. The fellow Ford Performance driver swept by Blaney for the lead on lap 246. Both pitted for the final time five laps later.
Ultimately, Blaney lost touch with the eventual race winner. With sunlight fading, NASCAR Cup Series officials were forced to shorten the race by eight laps. When the checkered flag waved, Blaney crossed the line in fifth.
“I thought we were pretty good,” admitted Blaney. “We just got loose when the sun started to go down and as it got darker, we got looser and just couldn’t really keep up with that. We kind of fell off the pace there at the end. When we had the lead, I was kind of riding around and I knew Aric and [Keselowski] were there.
“I was trying to manage my tires, but as soon as Aric got by [Keselowski], he was on me incredibly quick, and I couldn’t push any harder. Overall, not a bad run. The three best cars in the top five is not bad, just still have to keep doing a little work, but we’re getting there.”
Blaney narrowly avoided disaster in the first Stage. Six laps into the race, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Denny Hamlin all spun in the rain. Busch and Truex slammed the outside wall. Meanwhile Hamlin, Ross Chastain, and Alex Bowman each picked up minor damage.
After the race finally restarted, Blaney took the lead from Chase Elliott. The Team Penske driver went on to win the Stage. He finished the second Stage in third.
The fifth-place finish was the fifth top-five for Blaney this season and the 43rd of his Cup Series career. It was the 112th top-five finish in the High Point, N.C. native’s NASCAR career.
Blaney is locked into the Cup Series playoffs via his win at Atlanta Motor Speedway earlier this season. He remains eighth in the points standings, 185 behind leader Hamlin.
In total, the 27-year-old has earned nine Playoff Points so far this season. That ranks sixth among those that have earned Playoff Points this season. Kyle Larson has earned the most Playoff Points this season, 32.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by NKP / NKP Photo