By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
A pre-race penalty and an unscheduled put Ryan Blaney behind the proverbial ‘eight-ball’ just one race into the NASCAR Playoffs.
Before the Cook Out Southern 500 started, the points cushion that Blaney’s No. 12 Menards / Maytag 2003 Throwback Ford Mustang evaporated. Following pre-race technical inspection, NASCAR Cup Series officials penalized the Team Penske driver for improperly mounted ballast.
NASCAR ejected crew chief Todd Gordon. The sanctioning body also deducted 10 driver and owner points from the team. Blaney then lost his seventh-place starting position.
Competition director Travis Geisler took over the crew chief duties at Darlington Raceway. However, starting at the rear of the field, Blaney was unable to earn stage points. To make matters worse for the 26-year-old, a flat tire forced an unscheduled pit stop on a restart on lap 122.
It seemed that Blaney found some good luck when he moved back onto the lead lap during the next caution. On the restart to begin the final stage, he picked up front-end damage. The damage relegated Blaney to a 24th-place finish, the worst for a Playoff driver at Darlington.
“Definitely wasn’t our night for our Menards/Maytag team,” admitted Blaney. “We had the inspection penalty and lost points before the race started and had some bad breaks. We’ll get ready for Richmond and Bristol and try to gain ground back in the playoffs.”
Blaney leaves Darlington 17-points behind the Playoff cutoff, held by fellow Ford Performance driver Clint Bowyer. He is also 90-points behind leader and race winner Kevin Harvick.
The High Point, N.C. native now has two races to move back above the Playoff cutline.
The first opportunity for Blaney will be the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway. In the Cup Series he has eight starts at the short track. Blaney’s average finish at Richmond ranks 13th out of the 16-driver Playoff grid. He has zero top-10 finishes in Cup at the Virginia track.
Bristol Motor Speedway, the cutoff race for the Round of 16, holds more promise for Blaney. The Team Penske driver was outrunning his competitors in the Spring before getting swept up in an accident with a lapped car. Blaney has one top-five and four top-10 finishes at ‘The Last Great Collosseum.’ However, his average finish there also ranks 13th out of the 16-driver Playoff grid.
Photo by NKP / NKP Photo