Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – AVONDALE, AZ – For the third straight Sunday, Ryan Blaney had a negative that counteracted a positive—a pit road miscue that hampered a fast race car.
In Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway—unlike the previous two races at Atlanta and Las Vegas—the pit snafu didn’t turn a contending car into a 22nd place also-ran.
Blaney started from the pole in Sunday’s race, led 94 laps and won the first stage. But on Lap 196, under the sixth caution of the afternoon, Blaney’s crew failed to tighten all the lug nuts on his No. 12 Team Penske Ford.
Blaney returned to pit road a lap later to correct the problem and restarted 18th on Lap 201. He regained track position with a two-tire stop on Lap 221 and restarted fifth on Lap 226 uncertain whether he could make it to the finish on fuel.
On Lap 252, after two more cautions, Blaney passed Aric Almirola around the outside for the lead and held it until Kyle Busch—who had taken four tires—took over the top spot on Lap 296. Trying to save fuel in the late going, Blaney surrendered second place to Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 308 of 312 and held on to finish third, his best result of the season so far.
“We were on two tires and I just held on,” Blaney said. “Actually, ours held on a lot better than what I thought it was going to, but then when it got to 30 to go or 25 to go, I got kind of tight, and I couldn’t hit (Turns) 3 and 4 anymore, and then I ran up on lapped traffic, and it absolutely killed me.
“Once we got passed, we were kind of close on gas, so it was full fuel-save mode when you know you’re not going to win the race. It was a good call to take two tires. I don’t think we would have got to third on four because it was hard to pass out there. I’m proud of this team. We needed that. That’s where we’ve been running all year—it just hasn’t been where we’ve been finishing.”