Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – LONG POND, PA – Two years ago, in the June event at Pocono Raceway, Ryan Blaney scored a breakthrough victory in the Pocono 400, holding off Kevin Harvick to take the checkered flag in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford.
That win, however, hasn’t opened the floodgates for Blaney, who moved to the No. 12 Team Penske Ford last year and picked up a second career victory on the Charlotte Roval after two drivers ahead of him—Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson—wrecked in the chicane coming to the finish line.
Blaney’s teammates, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, already have visited Victory Lane this season—Keselowski three times and Logano once. Blaney’s car has shown speed, but a spate of mistakes has led to disappointing finishes. The No. 12 car posted its best result in the last five races last Sunday—a 13th at Charlotte.
But that doesn’t mean Blaney is feeling any particular pressure to match the performances of his teammates.
“Not really,” said Blaney, who qualified 17th for Sunday’s Pocono 400 (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “Any given week, I feel like any team can with the race–us, Gibbs, Hendrick, Haas–there are a couple others in there that have moments. But I don’t feel pressure. You just go out and do your best. That’s kind of the last thing I worry about.”
What does concern Blaney is the team’s inability to put together a mistake-free performance.
“I just worry about not having problems at the race,” said Blaney. “We’ve had so many weeks where we’ve had problems throughout the race, and promising runs just go down the drain. We’ve got to fix some issues and try to clean up some things. That’s the main focus, and then the other stuff will come.
“The wins will come, if you clean up that side of it. The speed is there, and the team potential is there. It’s just a matter of kind of sorting some things out that we need to and just having some smooth races. Once you get that fixed up, then everything seems to come together. Nothing is coming together right now. We’ve got most of it, but the last little quarter is just not working.”
KYLE LARSON DOESN’T MIND ABBREVIATED SATURDAY SCHEDULE
Saturday’s schedule for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers was something akin to bankers’ hours.
With Sunday’s Pocono 400 being an impound race, drivers showed to qualify their cars and had no further on-track obligations.
Not that Larson had any objections after qualifying seventh for Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“Well, we could go play golf,” quipped Larson, who has developed a real affinity for the game. “There are some really nice courses around here.”
But there’s also a practical benefit to holding two practice sessions on Friday and impounding the cars after qualifying on Saturday. That schedule eliminates one practice session versus a typical weekend that features practice before qualifying on Friday and two more sessions a day later.
“Saturday is always a tough practice, because the first practice is always so early in the morning that you don’t really learn a whole lot until the last few minutes of it anyway,” Larson said. “Not that it’s a waste of time, because you always learn something.
“But this is a way for the teams to save a lot of money. If we can sacrifice a practice session, I think it’s good for the health of the teams.”
CHRISTOPHER BELL CAN SEE SILVER LINING IN FIFTH-PLACE RUN AT POCONO
No, Saturday’s Pocono Green 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race didn’t go the way Christopher Bell would have liked.
On Lap 17, Bell spun near the exit from Turn 1 and brushed the outside wall with the rear of his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
But Bell recovered. On Lap 66, he passed Justin Allgaier for third place, and after an exchange of green-flag pit stops, he was running second to eventual race winner Cole Custer, albeit more than 13 seconds in arrears.
But two cautions—the second of which sent the race into overtime—likely cost Bell a runner-up finish. He lined up third for the overtime restart and could make progress on the bottom lane, eventually finishing fifth.
But that was far better than last week’s 31st-place result at Charlotte, where Bell crashed out after 90 of 200 laps.
“We were just kind of slow all day,” Bell lamented after the Pocono race. “We didn’t get the finish we wanted. I thought we were going to run second there if the yellow didn’t come out, and, unfortunately, the yellow came out.
“I started on the bottom and just could never–just wasn’t fast enough to get up there. Bummer, but it was a much-needed momentum for after how Charlotte went.”