AVONDALE, Ariz. — Ryan Blaney exited his car Sunday with relief.
The 29-year-old from High Point, North Carolina had just pulled his car down pit road after a second-place result at Phoenix Raceway, his best of the season. After disappointing results in the first two West Coast races, it was a much-needed podium finish.
“Overall, pretty good day. We got a lot better all day,” Blaney said. “We finished a little better than I thought we’d run. So, that was positive.”
Blaney earned stage points in each segment but had nothing for the Hendrick Motorsports duo of William Byron and Kyle Larson, who led most of the race.
As the race progressed, the handling of Blaney’s car improved. With 10 laps to go, Blaney ran sixth when a caution came out for a Harrison Burton crash. Kevin Harvick, the leader at the time, elected to take four tires on pit road but Blaney and others took just two.
After quick service, Blaney exited pit road third to line up for the restart with three laps to go. AJ Allmendinger, Noah Gragson and Ty Gibbs crashed in Turn 1 on the restart to set up NASCAR Overtime.
Blaney choose the inside lane on the restart and tried to work the bottom as the HMS cars battled for the win on the top. The Team Penske driver got a run down the backstretch and nearly cleared Byron out of Turn 4, but Byron took the white flag after a push from Tyler Reddick and brought it back for his second win in a row.
“I thought I was in a good spot off two being underneath them,” Blaney said. “I think [Byron] got some help from [Reddick] down the back, got clear. I wasn’t able to stay side by side with them.
“We did a good job of putting two [tires] on it there. I wanted to be third [on the restart]. I wanted to be on the bottom just in case the leader slides up, you can kind of roll the bottom.”
Blaney’s result comes after a 26th-place finish at Auto Club Speedway after suffering damage in a massive restart crash. A week later at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Blaney qualified second but lacked speed in the race and finished 13th. The two uncharacteristic races dropped the driver of the No. 12 Ford Mustang to 15th in driver’s points. But after his 43 points on Sunday, Blaney is back up to eighth.
Blaney is just one of two Fords in the top-11 of points. Harvick, who finished fifth, is second in points and trails Alex Bowman by three.
Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 from Atlanta Motor Speedway is set for 3 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.