Blaney Gets Maiden Victory with Late Pass at Pocono

by Tucker White On Sun, Jun. 11, 2017

Ryan Blaney celebrates victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Axalta Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway. Photo: Kirk Schroll/SpeedwayMedia.com

Ryan Blaney passed Kyle Busch in the closing laps of the Axalta Pocono 400 and held off Kevin Harvick for the rest of those closing laps to win for the first time in his career at Pocono Raceway.

Busch, on older tires, got the superior restart over Brad Keselowski, on newer tires, with 13 laps to go. But while Keselowski posed no threat, Blaney took over second and challenged Busch’s claim to the lead. Blaney used the entire width of the frontstretch to go for the lead with 10 to go, but Busch blocked his advance. He got to Busch’s inside heading down the Long Pond Straightaway, but Busch drove him down to the apron to force him to back off going into Turn 2, which he did. Busch rounded the turn a lane off the bottom, giving it to Blaney exiting Turn 2, who used it to his advantage and passed Busch for the lead on the Short Chute.

He spent the next nine laps holding off a hard-charging Harvick to score his first career victory in his 68th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start.

Harvick finished second and Erik Jones earned a career-best finish of third.

Kurt Busch and Keselowski rounded out the top-five.

Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-10.

Kyle Busch led the field to the green flag at 3:22 p.m. The first stage was uneventful, only broken up by a cycle of green flag stops around lap 14-19 and Joey Logano making an unscheduled stop for a flat left-rear tire on the sixth lap. It came to end on lap 50 when the first caution flew for the end of the stage, won by Busch.

The start of the second stage offered a little more with Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffering an engine failure on lap 58 and Clint Bowyer tagging the wall in Turn 1 moments later, but it then settled into another long green run. The lead only changed during a cycle of green flag stops when Busch pitted on lap 91, followed by Denny Hamlin the next lap, giving the lead to Kyle Larson.

Unlike the first stage, there was a caution during the stage to interrupt the flow. Four prior to the end of the second stage, Jimmie Johnson suffered a brake failure and slammed the wall in Turn 1.

Johnson was asked if there was any braking issues before that.

“No, it went right to the floor and I saw a replay inside the medical center. The smoke, I think, is the brake fluid coming out of wherever failed and onto the rotors. 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,” Johnson said. “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. Certainly, a big scare. I haven’t had a scare like that since 2000 at Watkins Glen. So, just want to let my wife and kids and my mom know that I’m okay and I will go change my underwear and get ready to go home.”

Jamie McMurray slammed the wall in Turn 1 seconds later after also suffering brake failure.

After a 23-minute and 25-second red flag, NASCAR opted for a one-lap shootout to end the second stage, instead of running the laps out, and Larson won the stage.

Busch regained the lead by staying out.

Back to green with 55 to go, he made his final stop of the race with 36 to go. After Martin Truex Jr. pitted four laps later, the lead went to Keselowski, who held it for 11 laps before pitting with 20 to go. The lead cycled back to Busch.

The following lap, Kasey Kahne suffered brake failure going into Turn 1 and slammed the wall, bringing out the fourth caution and setting up the 13-lap run to the finish.

“Yeah, I was going down the front stretch about halfway and the right front popped,” Kahne said. “I had been fighting serious brake problems for a while. So, I’m guessing it had something to do with that. But, it happened in the middle of the front stretch so I just kind of rode the wall, blew my brakes off, rode the wall to the backstretch, which was actually was a very easy ride for where it happened. Just disappointed that happened, that is three weeks in a row we have had issues. Been in the care center and man, haven’t done anything wrong yet, just keep having issues. That is a struggle.”

The race lasted two hours, 48 minutes and 40 seconds at an average speed of 142.292 mph. There were 13 lead changes among nine different drivers and four cautions for 18 laps.

Truex leaves Pocono with a one-point lead over Larson.

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