AVONDALE, Ariz. – 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.”
After Ninth-Place Run, Kevin Harvick Has Work To Do At Best Track
Kevin Harvick, the dominant driver at ISM Raceway with nine Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories at the one-mile track, didn’t lead a lap in Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500.
In fact, Harvick never ran higher than third in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, and after he was shuffled back on consecutive restarts on laps 226 and 233, crew chief Rodney Childers opted to pit Harvick for four tires and fuel under yellow on lap 234.
Harvick restarted 21st on lap 239 and drove to a ninth-place finish as the race ran green the rest of the way.
“It took us I don’t even know how long to get past cars that were six, seven, eight-tenths slower than us at the end of the race, so just extremely difficult to pass,” Harvick said. “We got shuffled there on the restarts and just decided to come down and get tires and see if we could do something better than being in the middle on two tires, and it took us a long time to get back going.”
With the ninth-place run, Harvick fell one spot to third in the series standings, nine points behind race winner and series leader Kyle Busch and three behind second-place joey Logano, who finished 10th on Sunday.
Denny Hamlin Continues Solid Start With Fifth At ISM Raceway
Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin started third in Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway. But, unlike Joe Gibbs Racings teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr., who finished first and second, Hamlin had difficulty holding his track position.
The driver of the No. 11 Toyota was ninth for the final restart on lap 239 of 312, and he charged to fifth at the finish, giving JGR three of the top five positions. Nevertheless, Hamlin was far from satisfied with his second top five and third top 10 of the season.
“Our Camry was fast,” Hamlin said. “We just got set back by some track position stuff – a little bit in the pits again. Just had a couple of bad restarts. We started (ninth) and drove up to fifth. Super-fast Camry. We should have been right there where my teammates were. We just didn’t keep the track position quite as good as they did.
“Frustrating. Trying to get track position when you have a fast car. You just can’t drive through the field. You have to be patient and wait on everyone to kind of mess up or you’ve got try to run a different line, but when you do it’s just too much distance. Just the frustration of having a faster car, and you can’t pass.”