By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
Ryan Blaney was scary dominant Sunday. Leading a season-high 157 laps, Blaney’s chances at victory were derailed by a pit road penalty during the final caution.
“We had a really good Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang tonight,” said Blaney. “On the long runs we were really good. Denny was good on short runs. I was just kind of trying to hold off the guys behind me until we got 20 or so laps in and then I could kind of start creeping forward. But, we just got that pit road penalty at the end. It’s just a mistake and something that should be avoided. We’ve had an issue the last three times we’ve been here with a car to win, so that’s frustrating but I’m real proud of the effort. I just wish we could close one out.”
Sweeping both stages Sunday, an air gun and hose getting caught under the car and pulled out of the box resulting in a penalty was the kryptonite. For the first time in his Martinsville career, Blaney swept the stages. He had one previous stage victory at Martinsville coming in March 2018. There have been four races at Martinsville where Blaney has led 30 or more laps. Sunday though was the most he’d ever led at Martinsville and the second most laps he’s led in a race. Blaney led 158 laps at Bristol last spring and led 157 laps Sunday at Martinsville and the common thing amongst those races, he didn’t take home the trophy.
Even though Blaney didn’t earn the victory, his performance in the final laps of the race was something worth noting working his way all the way up to 11th after having to start from the tail end of the field. With a victory already in his bank from Atlanta, mistakes aren’t catastrophic. Sunday’s 11th place finish was his fourth outside the top-10 but was his first since Homestead in February. Team Penske as a whole showed something Sunday as all three drivers were running towards the front. Brad Keselowski had power steering issues. He was ultimately involved in the big one on lap 387.
With the exception of Bristol, Blaney has led laps in four of the last five races. With a consistent showing, Blaney now sits seventh in NASCAR Cup Series points as the series heads to Richmond. Richmond hasn’t been a very good track for Blaney as he’s never earned a top-10 finish in nine starts. His career-best finish at Richmond is a 17th in 2019. Can Blaney use his momentum from a dominant performance at Martinsville to crack his bad luck at Richmond?
Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography