CONCORD, N.C. – Bryan Adams may have sang about the “Summer of ’69,” but Ryan Blaney can sing about a late spring evening involving 59.
In this case, the 29-year-old can finally stop answering questions about his winless streak which reached 59 races.
Certainly, the Hartford Township, Ohio native and his No. 12 BodyArmor Ford Mustang team did not get to this point due to a lack of effort. By all means, the Team Penske driver was in contention to win several races since his victory in the 2021 Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
On this occasion, Blaney and crew chief Jonathan Hassler were intent on making the best out of a rainy Coca-Cola 600 race weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. While rain cancelled practice and qualifying while postponing the race to Monday afternoon, the young but seasoned veteran was determined to make it a memorable Memorial Day weekend.
From the get go, Blaney was smooth and stellar as he took the 1.5-mile track with confidence and precision. Starting from the eighth position, the Buckeye State native tallied a third place finish in Stage 1 followed by a fifth place result in Stage 2 and a win in Stage 3.
Clearly, if Blaney and his No. 12 team played their cards right, they could deliver a holiday weekend sweep for Team Penske, particularly with Josef Newgarden’s victory in the 107th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday afternoon. Notably, the Memorial Day sweep had not been accomplished until Blaney and company sealed the deal in Stage 4.
Leading 163 of 400 laps, or about 40.75% of the race, Blaney held a pretty wheel all race long to tally his first victory of the season and in 59 races.
Unlike most post-race celebrations and ever the traditionalist, Blaney performed a brief but gracious Polish Victory Lap before Newgardening his way to celebrate with fans partaking the festive mood in the frontstraightaway.
“It’s just so cool,” Blaney said. “What a weekend with Newgarden and Roger winning at Indy and us winning the 600, I mean that’s just so cool. That kind of snaps our winless streak right there and that’s even better.
“I’m just really thankful to everybody who stuck around with us. It’s huge to have BodyArmor on the car. It’s such a cool car and looking forward to celebrate with these guys and I’m just really proud of the car and the effort that we had and was able to hang on.”
If there is any race on the NASCAR Cup Series calendar where a total team effort is on display, it is the Coca-Cola 600. The driver has to do their part by keeping in contention on the track while the pit crew and crew chief stay one step ahead of the track and car.
“We just kept working on it all night and I think the track took a change,” he said. “I didn’t feel great at the end of Stage 3. I was kind of getting pressured by a couple guys and we had to work on our car, and it was getting cooler outside.
“We just did a great job. Jonathan did a great job of working on it all night and getting it close enough at the end to where we could really take advantage of restarts, and then once we got the lead was able to stretch it out.”
Blaney bested William Byron by 0.663 seconds, or about as comfortable of a margin of victory in the season’s longest race of the year.
As Blaney basked in his first crown jewel triumph, Byron, who led 91 laps, was left to wonder about his runner-up at Charlotte.
“We just needed a little bit,” Byron said. “I felt like there were enough restarts for him to get back to the front. He had that one pit road where he lost a few spots, and it was kind of between us and the 5. I knew the 12 and 45 were a little bit stronger than we were.”
Martin Truex Jr., who started 18th, worked his way to third, tallying a strong podium when all was said and done.
“Yeah, it was a fun day overall,” Truex said. “We had just too many hiccups, too many issues on pit road with a couple of bad stops and the damage that sent us to the rear and had to come back.
“I thought through Stage 3, we were going to have a shot at this thing. Out of the blue, at the start of the final stage, we got some damage on the splitter from debris and the car was never quite as good. Unfortunate that happened, but all in all, great night for our Bass Pro Shops, Tracker Boats Toyota Camry.”
In the meantime, Blaney can take heart that he is the latest NASCAR Cup Series winner. Better yet, it was more than breaking through and adding to his career statistics.
Ultimately, any self doubts and worries about competing in the highest form of stock car racing can be put to ease. With the Enjoy Illinois 300 in Madison, Illinois less than a week away, Blaney showcased that he has what it takes to compete and win in NASCAR competition.
“It can, yeah, definitely,” Blaney said. “I try not to think about that very much. We try to win every week, and it’s hard to do. It’s hard to win these races. Sometimes you just get in these streaks of things just aren’t going right, and then you feel like you’re doing everything right, maybe your cars aren’t fast enough to win races or you’re making too many mistakes. It can definitely be frustrating.
“It’s easy to get down on yourself when you don’t win. You’ve got to think to yourself, can I still do it? Can I still compete at a winning level? So it’s easy to kind of doubt yourself. But at the end of the day, we all pulled together, and everyone in the 12 group did a good job of working on things that we could get better. Yeah, it does feel like an eternity. I told Jonathan and those guys, ‘What a cool first one to get together, winning the 600.’ That’s a super cool one to win. Looking forward to seeing those guys later on.”
STAGE 1: William Byron, Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
STAGE 2: Chris Buescher, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell, Ty Gibbs, William Byron, Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace
STAGE 3: Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick, Martin Truex Jr., William Byron, Ty Gibbs, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Alex Bowman
FINAL: Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace, Tyler Reddick, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Zane Smith