Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – CHARLOTTE, NC –
RYAN BLANEY: IT’S JUST A MATTER OF PIECING THINGS TOGETHER
Team Penske drivers have won four of the first 12 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points races this season, but Ryan Blaney has yet to share in the spoils of victory.
Brad Keselowski won for the third time last Saturday at Kansas Speedway, and Joey Logano got his lone victory of the season so far at Las Vegas in early March.
Blaney’s season, on the other hand, has been one of feast or famine. He scored three of his four top fives in consecutive races—a third at Phoenix, a fifth at Fontana and a fourth at Martinsville—but his best finish in the last four events has been 15th.
In his last start, at Kansas, Blaney came home a disappointing 32nd at one of his favorite tracks. Nevertheless, Blaney holds the 10th position in the series standings, well inside the cut line for the Playoffs, and his level of confidence remains high despite the inconsistencies of the first third of the season.
“Kansas was just a bad weekend for us,” Blaney told reporters on Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We were just off, so that part stinks, but I feel like, obviously, our whole organization is good enough to win races. Brad put on a great show last weekend and was able to win that race, so the speed is still there. It’s just about kind of cleaning things up.
“Our group is great. Our group is fine, and they do such a great job. Whether it’s the road crew or the over-the-wall guys, they have it all together, and it’s just a matter of everything coming together for you, whether it’s throughout 400 miles, 500 miles or 600 miles. That part I’m not worried about. It’s just a matter of me doing my job and just piecing things together.”
THE MIND AND BODY TELL YOU CHARLOTTE IS A 600-MILE RACE
Ever since its debut in 1960, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway has been NASCAR’s longest race—and one of its most grueling, taking a heavy toll on drivers and their equipment.
For drivers whose minds and bodies typically are geared to race at a maximum length of 500 miles, the Coke 600 confronts them with an extraordinary challenge.
“You’re mentally programmed to go 500 miles, so your body kind of knows, when you’ve done this for a long time, it kind of knows that, and it’s like, ‘Hey, what are we doing here?’” said Kevin Harvick, winner of NASCAR’s marathon event in 2011 and 2013.
“And you mentally have to tell yourself that, really, when you look at the scoreboard and they tell you you’re halfway done, it’s really not that great of a sign, because you know that you have a long ways to go, and you already feel like you’ve gone a long ways.
“So, for us, it’s a little bit different mental preparation in order to keep yourself from being wore out 400 or 500 miles in and make sure that you’re ready for the last 100 miles that are extra.”
Harvick will try for his third victory in the 600 on Sunday, May 26 (6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
FOR ROSS CHASTAIN, VICTORY WAS A “WRENCHING” EXPERIENCE
In the continuation of a remarkable season with under-funded Niece Motorsports, Ross Chastain scored his eighth top-10 finish in eight NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races on Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
That 10th-place run, however, paled in comparison with last week’s emotional victory at Kansas Speedway, the first in the series for both Chastain and his team.
All that was left for Chastain was to find a way to commemorate the win.
“In the post-race interview with our crew chief (Phil Gould), he mentioned that he didn’t have a 1/16 wrench when he started the team,” Chastain said. “I thought it would be good to get him and the general manager (Cody Efaw) two-sets of 1/16 wrenches, put them in a shadow box and put a plaque with the first win.
“How are we supposed to expect it until you win and know if you can do it? You have to prove it. We all thought we could, but until you do it, you don’t know.”