Ryan Blaney and the Wood Brothers finally had their breakthrough to Victory Lane, making it a memorable weekend for NASCAR at Pocono Raceway.
Blaney outlasted a dominant Kyle Busch, passing him on fresh tires with 15 laps left. Pulling away from a fading No. 18 Toyota, Blaney then held off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick to earn his first career win in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“The [No.] 18 stayed out, he looked to be the best car all day,” Blaney said. “Once we got to second, I knew he would fall off hard. It was a pretty good race to get by Kyle, then to hold off Kevin — props to him for racing me clean.”
The key moment came after a caution with 19 laps remaining in Sunday’s Axalta 400. Race leader Kyle Busch and 16th-place Brad Keselowski chose to stay out while the rest of the field pitted for fresh tires.
That took Busch, who wound up leading 100 of the 160 laps from overwhelming favorite to sitting duck. Gaining that crucial speed at the track’s three different corners, Blaney then made a thrilling pass on Busch to take control.
Sunday’s victory marked the first for The Wood Brothers since the 2011 Daytona 500 with Trevor Bayne. Blaney also all but certainly clinched a spot in the NASCAR playoffs.
Busch, who built leads of several seconds throughout the day, ended up skidding backwards with old rubber. Fading to ninth, he’s still trying to end a winless drought dating back to Indianapolis last July.
Blaney was not the only young driver inside the top five. Rookie Erik Jones scored a career-best third-place finish. The No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota even led the race for 20 laps before finishing the race as the highest Toyota in the field.
“I feel like we took a big leap toward the direction [to win races],” Jones said. “Once you get up and run in those positions, hopefully it comes a little easier as time goes on. [Blaney winning] definitely makes the other young guys, me, Chase [Elliott] , Daniel [Suarez], makes us feel like we can get it done.”
Jones was happy to see another young driver win in the Cup Series along with many of Blaney’s peers. Brad Keselowski interviewed him in Victory Lane on FOX while several drivers stopped by to congratulate the team.
With pit strategy shaking up the top runners throughout the day, the track had its competitors spread out quickly. The only scary moments in the race happened for multiple brake failures that halted the race in turn 1.
The first was an odd one between Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray, who each suffered brake failures at nearly the same time on Lap 95. Bringing out the race’s red flag period of more than 23 minutes, the final caution of the day flew for Kasey Kahne suffering the same malfunction. All three drivers were released from the infield care center.
“That was a big scare,” Johnson said. “I haven’t had a scare like that since 2000 at Watkins Glen. I will go change my underwear and go home.”
These were two of only five cautions waved on the day, including stage breaks.
The woes for Hendrick Motorsports also hit the No. 88 camp when Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed a shift for the second time of the weekend.
“The same thing that happened in practice,” Earnhardt said. “I went from third [gear] to second instead of fourth. I wish I had some answers, but it’s on me. It’s my fault.”
Darrell Wallace Jr. had a tough day in his Cup debut for Richard Petty Motorsports, being busted for pit road speeding three times before passing out on pit road after finishing 26th.
About the author
Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.