Ryan Blaney has earned top-five finishes in five of the last seven races at Martinsville Speedway yet remains winless at the half-mile paperclip.
After Sunday’s (April 11) race, that statistic should have read six top fives in the last seven. Instead, a pit-road miscue and ensuing penalty derailed what could have been a winning run for Blaney and the No. 12 team, relegating him to an 11th-place finish in the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville.
Blaney, who led 157 of 500 laps and won the first two stages Sunday, pitted from the second position with roughly 45 laps to go. The race-costing mistake came when his car was lowered off the jack. The air hose used by the front tire changer was caught beneath the left front tire, and Blaney dragged the hose and its connected air gun out of the pit box, incurring both the penalty for bringing equipment outside the pit box as well as damage to the left rear of the racecar as the hose wrapped itself around.
Rather than restarting fifth where he exited the pits, Blaney was posted to the rear of the field to serve his black flag and was scored 19th, the final car on the lead lap. Over the 42-lap run to the checkered, Blaney carved through the field and worked his way back to as high as 10th before eventually being passed back by Kyle Busch and ousted from the top 10.
“We had a really good Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang tonight,” Blaney said. “On the long runs, we were really good. Denny [Hamlin] was good on short runs. I was just kind of trying to hold off the guys behind me until we got 20 or so laps in, and then I could start creeping forward.
“But we just got that pit road penalty at the end. It’s just a mistake and something that should be avoided.”
Blaney finished runner-up in both Martinsville races in 2020. In fact, in the seven prior races before Sunday’s pit-road mishap, Blaney’s most recent results were eighth, third, 20th, fourth, fifth, second and second at the paperclip-shaped oval.
Blaney has never led as many laps as he did Sunday, though, yet that mid-race success was wiped away in the final pit stop of the day, unable to score a top 10 to salvage the day.
“We’ve had an issue the last three times we’ve been here with a car to win, so that’s frustrating,” Blaney said. “But I’m real proud of the effort. I just wish we could close one out.”
If the sixth-year veteran can find any solace in Sunday’s disappointment, Blaney already wheeled his No. 12 Team Penske Ford to victory lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March, the earliest in a season Blaney has ever won. Losing out on another win will and should sting, but the team is locked into the playoffs regardless of whether Blaney won at Martinsville.
It is fair to note, though, that closing out races is a problem Blaney has had through much of the past four seasons. There have been multiple races over that time in which Blaney seemed dominant – Daytona 500s, Bristol Motor Speedway events and even races at Kansas Speedway come to mind – yet he remains winless at those venues.
Certainly, Blaney is a talented driver who is only getting better with time. That was evidenced when he tracked down a dominant Kyle Larson at Atlanta to win one month ago, a race he very clearly closed out well.
However, while this Martinsville defeat was in no way due to any error Blaney made, it’s hard to ignore the pattern behind him as we stack this one into the pile of wins that weren’t.
Blaney and his team will have to quickly refocus. They head into Blaney’s worst track next week at Richmond Raceway, but visit his most successful track one week later at Talladega Superspeedway where he has two victories. A stretch of consistency can do a lot to help erase a disappointing result at Martinsville from their mind much sooner than later.
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