The youth movement in NASCAR is alive and well.
Ryan Blaney passed pole sitter Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 100 laps, with nine laps remaining in the Axalta Presents the Pocono 400 and held off Kevin Harvick to win his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in his second full-time season of competition.
The 23-year-old Blaney wheeled the famed No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford into victory lane for its first time since 2011 (Trevor Bayne, Daytona 500). The win for the iconic organization was also the 99th in their history. In doing so, he has all but locked himself and his team into the 2017 playoffs.
The Cortland, Ohio native only led 10 laps from Pocono Raceway on Sunday afternoon, but they were the most important 10. He got by the No. 18 of Kyle Busch, which was on slightly older tires, after a restart with 12 laps to go and held off another champion in Harvick for the win.
“I can’t believe it,” Blaney said in victory lane to Fox Sports 1. “It’s a hard one to process. I had a big run on (Kyle Busch) off of (turn) 3, and he did a good job blocking, and we were able to get under him, but then I had to hold the No. 4 (Harvick) off. He was super-fast. I can’t thank Kevin enough for racing me clean. That was really cool of him, but it was definitely hectic. Hopefully, the fans liked it. It was really cool.”
Brad Keselowski performed the victory lane interview in a quick turn of events. The day prior, Blaney was a part of the driver’s only broadcast for the Pocono Green 250 and interviewed Keselowski in victory lane. FS1’s Jamie Little gave the reigns over to the 2012 champion, and somehow, he got an invite to the celebration party from his Ford teammate.
— Jamie Little (@JamieLittleTV) June 11, 2017
“Well, you’re invited!” Blaney said in response to a question regarding the post-race party from Keselowski. “I’m definitely going to party with these guys because I can’t have a better group. They do such a great job, and we’ve had a lot of bad luck the last month. So it’s great to get back to where we should run and in victory lane. And we locked ourselves into the (playoffs). That was awesome. This is really cool.”
A few weeks ago, on his podcast “Glass Case of Emotion,” Blaney said that he wouldn’t perform a celebratory burnout if he were to win. He has a deep appreciation for the history of the sport, and remembers when the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford would pick up the crew members and not tear the engine up post-race. He did everything but picking up his crew, giving a partial Polish victory lap to the applauding fans along the Long Pond straightaway.
“It’s the Wood Brothers’ 99th win and that’s really special and it was a lot of fun,” the third first-time winner of the 2017 season went on to say. “I think it exceeds the dream a little bit. I grew up watching my dad (Dave Blaney) race on this race track, and it’s so cool to get the Wood Brothers in victory lane, No. 1, and to do it here at a racetrack that is really close to Ohio—a home to me—is pretty awesome.”
Following Blaney across the finish line were Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski. Jones’s third-place result was a career-best for the Byron, Michigan native.
Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth filled out the top 10 finishing positions when the checkered flag flew from the Tricky Triangle.
Coming home inside the top 15 were Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez. Some other notable finishers included Danica Patrick in 16th, Clint Bowyer in 17th and Joey Logano in 23rd.
Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray all finished outside the top 30 due to accidents. Dale Earnhardt Jr. also came home in 38th after a poor shift blew the engine underneath the hood of his No. 88, the second blown motor in a three day span.
HARVICK HAPPY WITH SECOND
The second-place effort from Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team came after a hard-fought effort all day long. Starting 12th, Harvick methodically worked his way inside the top five and had the quickest lap times during the final green flag run. But it wasn’t enough.
“The No. 21 (Blaney) could charge the corner a little bit harder than I could,” Harvick told FS1 post-race. “And my best bet, the way I passed people all day was waiting for him to slip up off the bottom, and he never slipped up off the bottom. So I just didn’t have enough laps to finish that last pass off, and Ryan did a good job of not slipping a wheel with the amount of laps that he had left and was able to hold on.”
Harvick also had a bit of a scare at the end of stage two, as he shifted from third to second gear, which is not good for the transmission. He also had issues with his brake pedal throughout the afternoon. Somehow, though, the engine remained intact and made it to the end of the event.
“The guys did a great job,” Harvick said on pit road. “I’m really proud of the engine shop for building a pretty sturdy engine there. Because it should have blown up, but it never blew up.”
ROWDY LEFT EMPTY HANDED
Kyle Busch started from the pole and won stage one from Pocono Raceway, but when he stayed out under the final caution of the afternoon, his bed was made—and it was messy.
Interim crew chief Ben Beshore thought that track position would outweigh tires for the 18-lap shootout for the win, but Blaney’s fresher tires proved to be too much for Busch to handle. He ultimately fell outside the top five and came home in ninth place when the checkered flag flew.
His 100 laps led were the most out of the entire field. But Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing leave the 2.5-mile triangle still without a victory. It’s getting to be now or never time for the No. 18 team. With fewer and fewer playoff spots remaining, if they don’t win soon, they could be left on the outside looking in, along with a handful of other big names.
It wasn’t exactly how he imagined it starting (or finishing), but Darrell Wallace Jr. brought the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports entry home in one piece, and that’s a win in his book.
“First trip down pit road cost us and put us behind the eight ball the rest of the day,” Wallace Jr. said following his 26th place finish. His tachometer was off and he was caught speeding on pit road on three separate occasions. The first time, he was speeding in four sections.
“I was driving my butt off,” Wallace Jr. said. “This is a first step, we ran a good, clean race, that’s all you can ask. Didn’t wreck the car. That’s good. It was a really cool, really fun day. This was a bad-ass day […] we’ll just get better.”
Wallace Jr. also experienced a scary moment upon climbing out of his race car. He fainted, but quickly drank some Gatorade and regained consciousness. He then ran to victory lane to congratulate and hug his best friend and race winner, Ryan Blaney, before heading to the infield care center for further observation and treatment.
“Yeah, I’m good,” Wallace Jr. said with a smirk. “This is the third time that this has happened, so I get pissed off at myself that I just pass out.”
GIVE THEM A BRAKE
With five laps remaining in stage two of the Axalta Presents the Pocono 400, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray experienced brake failures on the same lap, in the same corner, and suffered the same fate: scary wrecks that ended up in destroyed race cars.
The No. 48 Chevrolet’s brake pedal went to the floor. He tried to save the car and make the impact as light as possible, but the speed was too high, and Johnson crashed violently.
“I can only speculate that I got the brakes too hot and when I went to the brakes they just traveled straight to the floor,” said Johnson, who ended up sitting down on the track surface to catch his breath after the hard hit. “I didn’t even have a pedal to push on. At that point, I threw it in third gear and I was just trying to slow it down. I was heading to the grass and I was wondering why I didn’t turn right and get to the wall sooner, but I’m fine.”
McMurray’s No. 1 Chevrolet slammed the wall and ended up catching fire as he was driving it back to pit road. He was thankfully able to exit the car before the flames engulfed him.
“I didn’t really even see the No. 48 (Johnson) car wrecking until I just went down and I got on the brake pedal,” McMurray said outside the infield care center. “And my pedal started to go to the floor and I had a little bit that I could kind of pump it and I thought I was going to be okay […] I just started spinning and didn’t have any brakes. So, it was really weird that we kind of both had the same thing happen at the same point on the racetrack, but fortunately, we are both okay and yeah, move on.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Irish Hills at Michigan International Speedway for the Firekeepers Casino 400 on Sunday, June 18, 2017. Joey Logano is the defending winner of the event at the two-mile asphalt tri-oval in Brooklyn, Michigan.