Blaney Scores Popular First Win at Pocono

Moments like Ryan Blaney’s first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at Pocono Raceway are a catalyst for the sport.

All things considered, the 23-year-old racer battled a pair of former Cup champions. By and large, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were formidable challengers for the Cortland, OH native.

Ultimately, a late race caution provided Blaney and his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing team with an opportunity to pounce when it counted.

On the lap 148 restart, leader Kyle Busch waged in a duel with the sophomore racer at the 2.5-mile superspeedway. Both drivers refused to give an inch of precious real estate at the Long Pond, PA venue.

Incidentally, Busch and Blaney battled for the win in 2015 Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  In that duel, experience outwitted youth and enthusiasm.

Whether it was poetic justice or not, Blaney leaped at the chance for the win, something he nearly completed at Texas and Kansas.

"And it looks like we might've made it, yes it looks like we've made it to the end."

“And it looks like we might’ve made it, yes it looks like we’ve made it to the end.”

“When the 18 stayed out, he looked to be the best car all day. It’s almost a curse when you’re that good,” Blaney observed.  “Everyone just kind of does the opposite of what you do in that situation.  We’ve been on the bad side of that before.

Once we got to second, I knew he was going to fall off pretty hard, and it was just a matter of getting by him before everyone else.  All the other really fast cars on our strategy got to second, as well, or got to us.  And it was a pretty good race to get by Kyle there at the end of the race, and then having to hold Kevin (Harvick) off was really tough.”

Once Blaney passed Busch on lap 151, it was a matter of staving off one of the sport’s best in the closing moments. Arguably, Harvick pressured Blaney in the final 10 laps, attempting to get the No. 21 car loose.

Ultimately, Blaney staved off continuous challenges by Harvick, taking away any drafting opportunities for the Californian.

Blaney has knocked on the door of Victory Lane at Texas and Kansas before his win at Pocono. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Blaney knocked on the doors of Victory Lane at Texas and Kansas before his win at Pocono. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

“He was fast all day, and you just got to not mess up and hit your marks and take airway,” Blaney observed. “Props to him, he drove me really clean, and I have the utmost respect for him doing that.

I’ve seen him win countless races passing cars within the last 10 laps. And he does a great job with that.  But thank you to him again for racing me clean.”

Remarkably, it was the kind of battle for the win that NASCAR needed.

At any rate, while it was not a photo finish like the 2003 race at Darlington, it left the fans at Pocono standing on their feet and competitors saluting the first-time winner.

This wasn't a case of Motorcraft emptiness.

This wasn’t a case of Motorcraft emptiness.

“That means a lot, obviously,” Blaney said.  “That’s really cool that they showed their respect.  It was so cool on the cool-down lap to see everybody come up and give you a thumbs-up.

That to me is so cool, to show all the support that they have. Whether it’s your best friend or your worst enemy, people you’ve had run-ins with, they were congratulating me, and that’s cool.”

Furthermore, Blaney’s win seemed like a moment from Days of Thunder, as the young racer contended with radio issues.

Consequently, Blaney and crew chief Jeremy Bullins utilized old school communication, fittingly for a driver competing for the sport’s longest running team.

“You know, the old hand on the door for — was it tight, hand on the door?” Blaney recalled.  “Door is tight, roof was loose, thumb up, thumb down if it was good or not or keyed the mic — because they could hear the mic key, they just couldn’t hear me.”

Instead of winding up like Tom Hanks in the 2000 survival film Cast Away, Blaney and his team stepped up to the plate.

All things considered, the third generation racer provided a humble perspective regarding the importance of his first win.

“You can have confidence to run well,” he said. “I’m not like, oh, if I win this race I’m going to do this and this and this. You just kind of focus on the task at hand.  But it definitely is a little bit more surreal than I expected.

It’s so cool to do it and with a great team, as well.  This is what I always watched and wanted to do as a kid. I got lucky to get opportunities to make it happen.”

All told, Blaney punched his ticket into the postseason while earning his legendary team earned their 99th Cup win. Furthermore, driver and team have their sights on their next goal.

"I was brought up with the belief that in order to get respect, you’ve got to give respect." - Ryan Blaney (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

“I was brought up with the belief that in order to get respect, you’ve got to give respect.” – Ryan Blaney (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

“To do it with the Wood Brothers and at a place where I vividly remember coming and watching my dad race here so much is really special,” Blaney said.  And this is a hard racetrack.

This is one of the toughest racetracks we go to, of playing with where to shift, how to shift, what your car needs.  It’s just really neat to be able to get these guys their 99th win and hopefully we can go for 100 here.”

After all, as UCLA Bruins football coach “Red” Sanders once said, “Winning isn’t the only thing. It’s everything.” Michigan International Speedway could be the next opportunity for the No. 21 team.

“We just want to go out and keep trying to win races and carry this momentum as long as you can and just try to keep building,” Blaney stated.  “I don’t think we change up anything.”

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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