By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Ryan Blaney scored a top-five after the first half of the doubleheader at Pocono Raceway saw multiple cautions, blocking, strategy, and a wild last lap.
The Team Penske driver was up front on a two-pit stop strategy when the caution waved for Ryan Newman’s crash halfway into Stage 2. Although that put many onto the same strategy as Blaney, he climbed back up through the field. The 27-year-old’s progress was hampered by several quick cautions.
Blaney also struggled to slip by William Byron for position. The driver of the No. 24 Axalta Color of the Year Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE blocked the runs from the Ford Performance driver throughout Stage 2 of the Pocono Organics CBD 325. Byron held Blaney off for fourth when the Stage ended.
Blaney voiced his frustrations with Byron on Twitter post-race.
Not blocking good enough I guess. https://t.co/w99Tnrr6Qy
— Ryan Blaney (@Blaney) June 26, 2021
The final Stage of the NASCAR Cup Series race saw the two N.C. natives dueling for position. Blaney maneuvered his way by Byron on the restart. However, after green flag pit stops, Byron was once again ahead of the Penske driver. A debris caution erased the advantage the Hendrick Motorsports driver had on Blaney.
The final run saw the duo continue to battle. On the final lap, it seemed that Byron had kept Blaney out of the top-five. A cut tire for race leader Kyle Larson almost proved disasterous for Blaney. He swerved to avoid the wounded Chevrolet off the final corner to take fifth at the checkered flag.
“Starting a long way back was challenging and trying to get on some certain strategies that might help us out,” Blaney explained. “I thought our strategy was really good. We were really fast for that last caution. I got really tight after that. We needed a good day in our Menards Ford Mustang after last week for sure. This is definitely something to learn about for tomorrow and make some changes and hopefully have a really good run.”
Blaney started the first half of the ‘Pocono Double’ in 27th due to NASCAR’s metric qualifying formula. By the end of the first Stage, he climbed up to be inside the top-20.
The top-five finish means that Blaney will start Sunday’s Pocono Mountains 350 from 16th. The top-20 finishers are inverted for the starting grid on Sunday.
The fifth-place finish is Blaney’s third top-five finish this season and the 41st of his NASCAR Cup Series career. He’s locked into the playoffs by virtue of his win at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He remains ninth in points, 181 behind leader Denny Hamlin.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by NKP / NKP Photo