It wasn’t pretty for Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team in Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway, but it was mission accomplished as they will advance to the Monster Energy Cup Playoff Round of 12 despite a 23rd-place finish.
Blaney qualified 11th but struggled from the start with an ill-handling car.
He had dropped to 20th place by Lap 63, but the real setback came just after he made his first green-flag pit stop.
Before the cycle of pit stops could be completed, Jeffrey Earnhardt struck the barrels at the end of pit road, bringing out the caution flag and trapping Blaney two laps behind the leaders who hadn’t stopped at that point.
Blaney regained one lap but was never able to get back the second, even as the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team worked on his car during pit stops and improved its handling.
Although Blaney remained in position to advance to the second round of the playoffs throughout the race, there were some anxious moments in the final laps as the rear gear temperature rose to a problematic level.
But the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion showed its durability as Blaney nursed the car to the checkered flag.
That put him among the 12 drivers who will advance to the second playoff round, which begins next week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“It is definitely not the day we wanted, and we got trapped a lap down early, didn’t fire off very good,” Blaney said. “At least we got our car a little better the last 100 laps or so, but then we had an issue and I had to take it easy toward the end.”
But, in the bigger, playoff picture, all was good in the end.
Team co-owner Eddie Wood commended his young driver for showing great poise in a difficult situation.
“We didn’t have the best car, but Ryan took what he had and made it to the second round of the playoffs,” Wood said. “He didn’t put himself in any bad spots, and he realized that it wasn’t about gaining positions, it was about making it to the end of the race.”
Blaney said that with the first playoff round behind him, he’s looking forward not only to the upcoming race at Charlotte but also to Kansas Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, the other two tracks in the Round of 12.
“I think the tracks just play into our favor,” he said. “We are really fast at 1.5-mile race tracks and had a good run at Kansas earlier, and [on] speedways we run great.
“Charlotte, we had a broken axle earlier this year but we were pretty decent in that race before that happened. The 1.5-mile tracks seem to be our strong suit, and hopefully we can keep that up and keep making that our strong suit.”
Blaney enters the Round of 12 in ninth place in the standings with 3,008 points.