After running just outside the top 10 for much of Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Ryan Blaney and the crew of his No. 21 Omnicraft Ford Fusion put themselves in position to contend for a win at the end.
But despite running as high as second place in the final 50 laps and as high as third with 15 laps to run, Blaney was swept up in a late-race caution and fell to 25th place at the finish.
Blaney’s undoing was a restart with 10 laps remaining. He lined up fifth on the inside line, a lane that had proven to be a disadvantage throughout the race. On the start, he faded back and made slight contact with the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick. That resulted in a flat tire that sent him to pit road and to the back of the lead draft with just five laps to go.
With sheet-metal damage and panels underneath destroyed from the shredding tire, Blaney elected to nurse his wounded Omnicraft Ford to the finish line in 25th place rather than risk causing an accident in the final laps.
The finish dropped Blaney one spot to 13th in the championship standings.
Blaney told reporters afterward that while he didn’t feel like he had a realistic chance of repeating his Pocono win, he did have a chance to finish second after he and crew chief Jeremy Bullins developed a pit strategy to move up in the field. First, they elected to take two tires on a caution period with 50 laps to go, which moved them from 14th to fourth. Then they stayed on the track when another yellow flew with 15 to go, which put them third for the restart but on older tires.
“I think on short runs we could run second,” Blaney said. “We held second for a while then four tires ate us up.”
And there was the issue of having to restart two times on the inferior bottom lane.
“That didn’t bode well for us,” he said. “I went into [Turn] One and got super loose. I hate that it took a couple cars out off [Turn] Two. I got really free for some reason. It caught me off guard which made it look bad. We had a decent enough car to run up there once we got track position.”
Blaney went on to say that passing was difficult on the high-speed, two-mile track.
“The fastest cars couldn’t get to the front if they weren’t already there,” he said.
“I thought we did a good job of making adjustments to get us a little better. We got into spots, but it just didn’t work out.”
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said he was pleased with his team’s efforts to promote a new Ford Motor Company product, Omnicraft.
“We got a lot of good vibes throughout the weekend,” he said. “We were able to explain that Omnicraft offers quality parts for vehicles other than Fords and Lincolns.
“And we could let people know that even if they aren’t fortunate enough to own a Ford or Lincoln they can take their vehicles to Quick Lane Tire and Auto Centers, which are known for excellent service, and know they’re getting quality parts.”
Blaney and the Wood Brothers now move on to Sonoma Raceway, where the No. 21 Fusion will be back in its familiar red and white Motorcraft/Quick Lane colors.