Blaney rallies from difficult start to finish runner-up at Martinsville

Momentum is the keyword that is building toward Ryan Blaney and the No. 12 Team Penske Ford as Blaney notched his fifth top-5 result of the season, fourth since mid-May, by finishing second in the Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. His second runner-up finish of the season did not come without early drama.

Coming off his 100th top-five national series result last Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Blaney drew the pole position. By the first lap, however, he was overtaken for the lead. Following an early caution and restart on Lap 13, Blaney was stuck on the outside lane and fell out of the top five. By Lap 30, however, Blaney was out of the top 10 and continued fading while battling loose-handling conditions.

Once the competition caution was displayed on Lap 60, Blaney was one of several competitors pinned a lap behind along with teammate Brad Keselowski while his other teammate, Joey Logano, was in command of the field. Under caution, Blaney pitted for major adjustments to his No. 12 Ford. When the racing resumed under green, the handling of Blaney’s car slowly started to improve as he raced his way into the free pass position.

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With the laps dwindling in the first stage, Blaney received his wish and returned on the lead lap following a late caution due to a stalled car on pit road. Following a 10-lap dash to the conclusion of the first stage, Blaney would finish 19th while watching from a distance as teammate Logano won the stage.

By Lap 170, in the second stage, Blaney raced his way back into the top 10 as he methodically worked his way to the front. By Lap 220, Blaney had worked his way back into the runner-up position, passing Logano and trailing Jimmie Johnson as far back as two seconds. With the second stage spanning into a green-flag run, Blaney settled in second in the second stage behind Johnson while collecting valuable stage points toward the playoffs.

The final stage, which started with 229 laps remaining in the race, was where Blaney made his move for the lead as he battled dead even with Johnson for one circuit before clearing him the following lap. He would lead 12 laps before Logano reassumed the lead. After Logano led the next 23 laps, Blaney returned to the lead as Keselowski, who struggled early, would make his way to third, placing all three Penske cars in the podium positions. Blaney would lead the next 22 laps until the caution flew with 175 laps remaining for a single-car wreck in Turn 2. Under caution, Blaney and his teammates along with the field pitted, but Blaney’s crew struggled on pit road as the driver exited pit road in eighth. To make matters worse, Blaney was sent to the rear of the field due to a pit road penalty, when one of his crew members jumped over the No. 12 pit wall too early.

When the race restarted, Blaney would carve his way back toward the front while teammates Logano and Keselowski duked for the lead. With approximately 100 laps remaining, Blaney was back in the top 10 and with 75 to go, he was back in the top five. As the laps dwindled to its final laps, Blaney continued pressing for more positions over the green-flag run as he caught teammates Logano and Keselowski for position. After passing them both, he began to pursue Martin Truex Jr. for the lead. By then, with 40 to go, Truex was long gone as he continued to stretch his lead beyond five seconds over Blaney. When the checkered flag flew, Blaney finished second, nearly five seconds behind Truex, for his fifth top-10 result at Martinsville.

With his fifth top-five result of this season and second runner-up result, Blaney advanced from seventh to sixth in the regular-season series standings and is 91 points behind points leader Kevin Harvick while he continues to pursue his first win of the season and first with veteran crew chief Todd Gordon.

“It was a very interesting race,” Blaney said. “We started off really bad. I mean, we went from starting on the pole to being a lap down in 60 laps. That’s kind of tough to do. We found a way to do that. We already dug ourselves a hole early. We pitted. Actually after the first pit stop, we got our car a lot better, a lot better…We got the Lucky Dog there right before the first stage end. After that, we drove all the way up to second. We had a great long‑run car. That was great. To be able to get the lead there at the start of the third stage, kind of biding our time, taking care of our stuff. Caution came out. We got a penalty on pit road. That set us all the way back again with not a lot of laps to go. We had 170 to go. Last restart we started ninth. [Truex] just got away from me. I couldn’t run him down. By the time I got to second, he was gone. My stuff was a little worn out having to pass a lot of cars.”

Blaney’s result capped off a solid run for Team Penske as teammates Keselowski and Logano finished third and fourth, which marked the first time since March 2019 where Penske’s three-car lineup finished in the top five.

Next for Blaney is Homestead-Miami Speedway, a track where he has raced at the last five seasons with a best result of 11th last November. The race will air on June 14 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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