Martinsville Speedway, the tough, tight half-mile oval, is the one place on the Sprint Cup circuit where a first-time driver can either earn the respect of veterans or spend quite a while paying the price for not doing so.
In Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville, rookie Ryan Blaney did exactly what his Motorcraft/Quick Lane team expected of him. He drove a race in which he ran every lap – one of the pre-race goals – and did so in a manner that showed respect to the drivers around him. And despite a late-race penalty for a pit crew/pit road violation on the day’s final stop, he brought his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion home in 19th place, and with it moved up two spots in the Sprint Cup standings to 15th.
Blaney continues his neck-and-neck battle with Chase Elliott for Sunoco Rookie of the Year as Elliott, 16th in the standings, finished one spot behind him at Martinsville.
“Ryan did exactly what he needed to do for his first race at Martinsville,” said team co-owner Eddie Wood. “He ran all the laps. He drove in a manner that was very respectful to others, and finished with the car in good shape.”
“Martinsville is a place where you have to respect the track itself as well as those around you, especially the first time you go there.”
Blaney started 12th and kept the No. 21 Ford Fusion in the top-15 for most of the race before dropping back just outside the top-15 in the final 100 laps.
“It was a long day for sure,” Blaney said. “There were some runs where I thought we were OK and other runs where I thought we were way off. At the end we were just OK, and that penalty didn’t help us during that last pit stop.”
In the latter stages, as the leaders were racing for the win and Blaney was about to be lapped, he pulled over and let the top two pass by.
Then he quickly got himself back in the free-pass position and rejoined the lead lap at the next caution.
“The 18 [eventual race winner Kyle Busch] was going to get by me regardless,” Blaney said. “I didn’t want to mess their race up, so I just pulled over and kind of let those guys have their race.”
“You don’t want to screw up the leader’s race, and I didn’t want to be that guy.”
Blaney, a third-generation racer, said he knew how important it is in the big picture to not be a star of the crash videos from his first Cup race at Martinsville, as others have done in the past.
“I was pretty courteous,” he said. “You don’t want to be the rough guy when it’s your first time and you’re a rookie, so I probably gave a little bit more than I should have, but maybe we’ll put that in our bank and utilize that in the fall.”
Next up for Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team is Saturday’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.