By Justin Schuoler, Staff Writer
HAMPTON, Ga. – After a first and second in both stages of the Quaker State 400, Ryan Blaney fell shy of his domination when the rain came to Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“I really hoped we got back going because I thought our car was really good,” Blaney shared after the race.
Just four races ago, the Team Penske driver was sitting atop the regular season championship standings. Three consecutive finishes outside of the top 30 and just amassing 11 points in total dropped him to ninth in the rankings. The slump wasn’t fun, but Blaney credited his team for never giving up.
“Those times definitely suck, but you’re going to go through those periods of rough weeks. That’s just racing and sport in general. We’ve done a pretty good job of keeping our heads up and focusing forward.”
And focusing forward they did. With nearly a perfect day, they’ve already started to climb back up the point standings as the year heads into the final races of the regular season. Blaney’s win in the Coca-Cola 600 locks his No. 12 Ford Mustang into the NASCAR Playoffs, but Blaney wants more points to give him a better advantage in each round.
Atlanta provided racing we haven’t seen since the repave at the end of the 2021 season. The last three races saw mostly two-wide action, which presented “follow the leader” tendencies of conservative racing. But with the combination of aging asphalt and a third lane coming into play, drivers were forced to lift off the throttle in the corners and make handling a major factor of the race.
Toss in the concern for rain and fans got to see non-stop thrilling racing, not knowing when the rain would come. For Blaney, it was pure joy to race like that and proud of the trust he has with his fellow competitors.
“That was fun,” he chuckled. “I had a blast racing Brad (Keselowski) there, Chris (Buescher) and Austin (Cindric) was up there. When the rain was initially announced, you didn’t know how long we would go. I thought we were just going to race to the rain or to the second stage. We raced the hell out of each other. That was a lot of fun. It’s fun when you can do that, trust those guys that you’re racing, and have fun while doing it.
“I can’t believe we didn’t wad them up even more just to be honest with you with how hard we were going.
“The Wurth Ford Mustang was really good, just weird split strategy with rain kind of throws everything off and we just ran out of time.”