Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – LONG POND, PA – It’s a big weekend for 24-year old Ryan Blaney, returning to Pocono Raceway ready to defend his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup victory in Sunday’s Pocono 400 race (at 2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Blaney has moved from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske this season, driving the No. 12 Ford. It’s often been a season of all-in or all-out for the young and hugely-popular talent – who has three top-five and six top-10 finishes through the opening 13 races of the season. These are high marks he is expected to easily exceed, considering he had career best four top-fives and 14 top-10s all of last year and is already close to surpassing those numbers only a third of the way through 2018.
He led a race best 118 laps in the season-opening Daytona 500 and finished seventh (he won the first Duel as well), and Blaney’s overall work was enough to earn him the No. 1 position in the standings after the race – a career high ranking for him and an ideal way to kick off his tenure with the championship Penske team.
Blaney impressively stayed among the top-three in the championship standings through the early season– leading 145 laps and finishing a season-best of third at Martinsville.
A crash at the always-tough Bristol Motor Speedway in mid-April interrupted the fast start. And he’s had two more DNFs since – in the last two races (at Kansas and at Charlotte on Sunday night).
So he comes to Pocono – where he has three finishes of 11th or better in four Cup starts – ready to right the ship, defend his first career victory and add to the win total; goals everyone in the sport fully expects Blaney to meet.
NEW PACKAGE, NEW EXCITEMENT
The NASCAR Xfinity Series will mark its third race at Pocono Raceway with what is anticipated to be an exciting technical package on its cars. The series will use the same aero package that was so successful at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year setting records for green flag passes for the lead (29) and lead changes (16).
The cars will have a bigger splitter and spoiler, specially designed aero ducts and restrictor plates on the 2.5-mile three-turn historic track and the expected outcome is even closer racing and more passing.
Neither of the race’s first two winners – Kyle Larson (2016) and Brad Keselowski (2017) will be competing this week’s Pocono Green “250” Recycled by JP Mascaro & Sons (Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) ensuring a new winner with the car’s new package.
Veteran Elliott Sadler maintains the championship lead that he’s held most of the year but is looking for his first win at Pocono in the Xfinity Series. He does have good history at the track, however, as the inaugural Camping World Truck Series race winner at Pocono in 2010.