HAMPTON, Ga. – In the world of NASCAR Cup Series racing, it does not hurt to be good and lucky like Ryan Blaney in Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
While the 29-year-old Hartford Township, Ohio native had a fast No. 12 BodyArmor Smart Water Ford Mustang, it was not easy pickings in the 260-lap race.
Early on, Blaney tallied a fourth place result, trailing only the Fords of Joey Logano, Austin Cindric and Brad Keselowski. By all means, it looked like a patented, solid race for the 10th year Cup racer.
However, Blaney committed an unforced error during the race’s only round of green flag pit stops. On Lap 132, while pitting with his Team Penske allies in Logano and Cindric, Blaney was tagged for speeding on pit road.
The penalty dropped the 2021 spring race winner from third to 33rd, three laps behind the lead lap contenders by Lap 143. Surely, it appeared that it would be another race with a promising part besieged by heartache.
Then again, there is no quit in the No. 12 team, particularly with Blaney, crew chief Jonathan Hassler, and the over-the-wall crew. If anything, it was about the only misfortune experienced in a race that went from uneventful to carnage central by Stage 3.
After running three laps off the pace and needing some fortune by his side, Blaney returned to the lead lap in the final 57 laps.
Essentially, it became a sprint like finish for the best possible result like Stage 1. Carving his way through the field like a methodical chess player, Blaney ran as high as third on Lap 222.
With the lone Chevrolet, Kyle Larson, and other challengers by the wayside, it was primarily a race winning battle between the Ford and Toyota camps. Despite his best efforts and incredible rally from the deep depths of the scoring order, it was all for naught on this race day.
As Logano crossed the line ahead of Keselowski and Christopher Bell, Blaney was shuffled to a seventh place result. Although Blaney came up short of scoring his second Atlanta Cup race victory, it was a solid points afternoon.
At press time, Blaney leaves Atlanta ranked fourth in points, 16 markers behind Logano, the series points leader. Moreover, he has five days to prepare for a tangle deep in the heart of Texas when NASCAR at COTA hosts the sixth round of the 2023 Cup season.
Last year, despite a practice incident, Blaney won the pole, placed second and fourth in Stages 1 and 2, and crossed the stripe in sixth. Given his strong performance last season, perhaps COTA offers a quality opportunity to the young racer in his pursuit of snapping his nearly two-year winless drought.