Rookie driver Ryan Blaney and his Motorcraft/Quick Lane team took what could have been a disappointing day at New Hampshire and turned it into a very respectable finish.
Blaney was running just inside the top-10 and moving forward after starting 14th when he made a mistake on his first green-flag pit stop of Sunday’s 301-lap race, seemingly dooming his Motorcraft/Quick Lane team to a lackluster finish.
After serving a penalty for speeding on pit road and being relegated to 24th place, one lap down, he and his Jeremy Bullins-led crew showed a great amount of poise under pressure. They used a strategy call to take the wave-around, a fast Ford Fusion, and some heads-up driving to rejoin the lead lap.
Then, with four fresh tires and 35 laps left to run, Blaney went on a charge and came away with an 11th-place finish, which put him back in contention for a Chase berth with seven regular season races left to run.
“That was a heck of a recovery,” said team co-owner Len Wood. “Ryan was down on himself for getting caught speeding, but he more than made up for it from that point on.”
Wood pointed out that throughout a series of late-race restarts and short green-flag runs, Blaney gained key positions every time.
“The first one, he restarted 23rd, then he started 19th, 15th and 12th,” Wood said. “He was aggressive on those restarts and did a tremendous job, and he held off Jimmie Johnson the last couple of laps to get 11th.”
Wood also said Bullins made the correct call to take the wave-around with 75 laps to go, even though that meant the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team would have to return to pit road for fuel by Lap 277. If the race had run under the green flag past that point, it would have meant a costly green-flag stop for Blaney. But the caution flew at Lap 265, allowing him to pit under the yellow flag for four fresh tires and fuel aplenty for the run to the checkered flag.
“Jeremy’s call to take the wave-around was the key to the recovery,” Wood said. “The group that stopped for tires wound up finishing outside the top-20.”
Blaney, who now has nine top-15 finishes in 19 starts this season, moved up one spot in the Sprint Cup standings to 17th, and is just 16 points shy of a Chase berth.
Wood said the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team is approaching the next seven races with the goal of securing a spot in the season-ending, 10-race run to the championship.
“We’re not going to give up until it’s over,” he said. “Like they say, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team now move to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where they hope to capitalize on a successful test session a week ago.