Ryan Blaney Wins First-Career Cup Series Race At Pocono; Wood Brothers Racing Visits Victory Lane For The 99th Timeby Camille Jones June 11, 2017
LONG POND, Pa.– Ryan Blaney captured his first-ever Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory on Sunday after holding off Kevin Harvick in the closing laps of the Axalta Presents the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Blaney took the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford Fusion to Victory Lane to capture Wood Brothers Racing’s 99th win after leading only 10 laps in the 160-lap event. As the laps ticked away on Sunday, Blaney battled Harvick en route to winning the Wood Brothers Racing’s first race since Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 in 2011. The Wood Brothers have won at least one race in NASCAR’s premier series in each of the last six decades. Blaney’s excitement with the team was evident as they celebrated in Victory Lane on Sunday. The victory was a dream come true for Blaney.
“I think it exceeds the dream a little bit,” Blaney said. “I grew up watching my dad race on this race track and it’s so cool to get the Wood Brothers in victory lane, number one, and to do it here at a racetrack that is really close to Ohio – a home to me – is pretty awesome.”
Blaney was able to complete the entirety of the race with no way to communicate with his race team due to radio issues. His team was able to speak to him, but he was unable to speak back. He communicated changes to be made through hand gestures in the pits. Unable to speak to his crew chief, Jeremy Bullins, Blaney was unable to celebrate how he wanted to.
“I wanted to pick Eddie and Len (Wood) up,” Blaney said. “I wanted to find them and pick them up, but it figures the one race we don’t have radio communication we end up winning it. Maybe we should turn the radio off more often, but I wanted to try to find Eddie and Len. I wanted to give them a ride to victory lane. That would have been cool, but maybe if we can get another one we’ll be able to do that.”
Harvick finished in the second position in his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Fusion. He missed a shift on a restart at the end of Stage 2, causing concern for potential engine damage. He was able to continue, but unable to make the pass on Blaney for the lead to win his first Pocono victory.
Harvick said, “21 could charge the corner a little bit harder than I could, 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 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.”
Erik Jones took home the third-place finish in Sunday’s race in his Furniture Row Racing No. 77 GameStop/Cars 3 – Driven to Win Toyota Camry. The effort marks his best-career finish in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Jones led 20 laps in the race.
“Just happy, happy that we finally get a finish that we deserve, ” Jones said. “We ran top-five most of the day and had good strategy and it worked out. The last restart played out right into our hands and got it during the third (stage) and knew we had to hold those guys off and we’d be just fine. It’s exciting, happy we had a fast race car. Wish we had a little bit faster one and then we could have gone up there and raced for it, but definitely a good day for us.”
Kurt Busch finished fourth, earning his first top-five this year since he won the season opener at Daytona. Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five. Following the race, Keselowski interviewed Team Penske teammate, Blaney in Victory Lane while the television broadcast was live on FOX Sports 1.
Martin Truex Jr. finished six, followed by Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth.
Kyle Busch won Stage 1, the first 50-lap stage of the event. There were no cautions during the first stage. Busch went on to lead a race high of 100 laps during the Axalta Presents the Pocono 400.
The 50-lap Stage 2 was won by Kyle Larson after a one-lap shootout following a hard crash involving Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray on lap 97 in the stage.
Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet suffered a brake failure while heading into the corner at roughly 200 mph. Johnson had to spin through the grass before the car shot right into the outside wall, making contact with at the rear end. The seven-time champion was able to climb from the car uninjured, but he was shaken.
“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.”
Simultaneously, McMurray also lost the brakes to his Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet in the same incident. McMurray’s car had a significant fire building under the hood, but he was able to get out of the car uninjured. The incident involving Johnson and McMurray brought out the red flag for just over 23 minutes.
“So, I didn’t really even see the No. 48 car wrecking until I just went down and I got on the brake pedal 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,” McMurray said. “And then, I don’t know if I got into some oil or what happened, but 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.”
In the 60-lap Stage 3, Kasey Kahne brought out the final caution with 18 laps remaining as his Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet made hard contact with the outside wall, also from a brake failure.
“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.”
There were just four cautions for a total of 18 laps in the 400-mile event, with two of those cautions marking the end of Stage 1 and Stage 2.
Martin Truex, Jr. holds the lead in the points standings over Kyle Larson by just one point. Truex Jr. has two wins so far in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series takes on Michigan International Speedway for the FireKeepers Casino 400 on Sunday, June 18 at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be found on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) and Motor Racing Network (MRN).
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