Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge Challenger in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS), finished second in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) on Saturday night. The result is the career-best NNS finish for the 18-year-old, second-generation driver.
Blaney began the scheduled 200-lap race from the 19th position, based on his lap of 30.521 seconds, or 176.927 miles per hour, around the 1.5-mile oval during the Saturday afternoon qualifying session. The race began with the Blaney communication that his Discount Tire machine was loose all around the TMS oval. However, he quickly began to work his way toward the top 10, a spot he achieved at lap 39. A lap 45 caution period gave crew chief Jeremy Bullins an opportunity to bring his young driver down pit road for four tires, fuel and adjustments to the track bar and air pressure. Blaney restarted the race from the 10th position at lap 50.
Clearly happy with the adjustments, Blaney began to cut his way through the field. On several occasions he was able to turn the fastest laps on the track as he worked his way into the top five at the 70th lap. He radioed to Bullins that he was still too-loose on corner exit. At lap 85, under the yellow flag, Bullins instructed his driver down pit road for four scuff tires, fuel and another track bar adjustment. The action resumed at lap 90 with Blaney running in the sixth position.
As the race moved past the halfway point, Blaney continued to deal with a loose-handling condition on the exit of the corners. To help his driver, Bullins made an additional air pressure adjustment under a green-flag pit stop at lap 144. Following the adjustment, Blaney again turned some of the fastest laps on the track.
When the penultimate caution flag of the night flew at lap 155, Bullins kept his driver on the racing surface to save their last set of sticker tires for a potential late-race caution. Blaney restarted the race in the second position at lap 159. He quickly surrendered several positions to those competitors who elected to take tires on the previous stop. However, the late-race caution that Bullins had banked on occurred at lap 177 and Blaney made his way to pit road for his final set of tires to set up a thrilling finish for the driver.
After restarting from the 13th position at lap 182, Blaney made quick work of the cars in front of him as he made his way back inside the top five at lap 187. He continued his assault on the field as he ascended to second-place with five laps to go, but ran out of time before he could catch the eventual race winner, Kevin Harvick.
Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish finished seventh in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge on Saturday night.
Following Saturday’s result, Blaney and the No. 22 team improve one spot to sixth in the NNS owner point standings.
“Jeremy (Bullins, crew chief) made a good call there late in the race,” said Blaney. “We stayed out when everyone else decided to take their last set of stickers. It was a gamble but a pretty good gamble if a caution comes out. I can’t thank Discount Tire enough for being on board and Jeremy for making good calls. These guys definitely stuck with us all weekend. We weren’t the best early in the weekend but these guys hung in with me. We almost got there at the end but just didn’t really get clear of traffic soon enough.”
Penske Racing PR