DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – Last year, Ryan Blaney left Daytona Speedweeks with a second place finish in the No. 21 Ford for the Wood Brothers. He’d go on to win his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono in June and make the playoffs as well. In the offseason, he’d join Team Penske in a newly funded third car though.
Now, he leaves Daytona with a seventh place finish and disappointment. Last year, he would have been thrilled to leave Daytona with a seventh place run in the Great American Race. This year, expectations are different.
Blaney, has been stellar all Speedweeks. He ran second for most of the Clash last Sunday but made a bad move and finished fourth. On Thursday night, he made the right move and won his Duel. On Sunday, he made another bad move with two laps left in regulation and sparked a 12 car melee in Turn 1. This time, it hampered Blaney’s chances of winning the ‘500.
Blaney, got into Kurt Busch while battling for second place with two laps left and got collected in the crash. He’d continue on, but not have the track position nor the car to contend in overtime. While a seventh place finish is still solid, it’s not where he should have been.
Blaney, had the car to beat today. He led a race-high 118 of the 207 laps, including all in the final 139 laps. How do you lead 118 of the final 139 laps and not win?
On the late race restart inside of 10 to go, he got hung out to dry. He had no drafting help and was stuck in the middle lane. But, the speed in his No. 12 Ford showed as he battled up to the inside lane in fourth a lap later. A lap after that, he was back in the lead. A lap later, crash.
That’s the harsh reality of restrictor plate racing. Blaney, found out first hand.