Race Weekend Central

Ryan Blaney, ‘Average’ Road Racer, Gets Surprise COTA Pole

AUSTIN, Texas – What a difference an hour (give or take) and a Next Gen car can make.

In the middle of the lone NASCAR Cup Series practice session Saturday (March 26) at Circuit of the Americas, Ryan Blaney found himself looking in the wrong direction.

The left side of Blaney’s No. 12 Ford sat against a foam barrier after the car snapped loose, spun and slid into it as he tried to navigate the straightaway between Turns 9 and 10.

Flashforward to just after 11 p.m. CT time and Blaney was in a much better place.

The Team Penske driver had clinched his eighth career NASCAR Cup pole and his first on a road course ahead of Sunday’s Cup race (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox)

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Blaney, with a lap time of 132.343 seconds around the 3.41-mile road course, bested Daniel Suarez for his second pole of the year.

“Talk about an up and down day, for sure,” Blaney said. “From putting it in the barriers on my third lap of practice and not knowing if the car was killed or if we had to go to a backup or what it would take to fix it.”

Blaney had no idea the extent of the damage to his car. The impact into the barrier had knocked off his drivers’ side mirror.

“I knew my wheel was straight and I had flat spots, but I got out of the car and looked at it and it scuffed it up but it was nothing too bad,” Blaney said. “We got really lucky honestly, right there, from a mistake of mine. Really lucky I hit those plastic blocks or whatever they are. We should put those things everywhere. …

“I didn’t know if we were even going to be able to qualify when I wrecked and to be able to come back and have a fast enough car to make it to the second round and then get a good lap in during the final round and barely beat Daniel (Suarez) there, that was really fun.”

This season is Blaney’s first with multiple poles since 2018.

Blaney, in his fifth full-time season with Team Penske in Cup, isn’t the first name that comes to mind when thinking of likely road-course winners.

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That’s even with a 2018 win on the Charlotte Roval and a Truck Series win at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in 2014.

Blaney himself identifies as an “average” racer on road courses.

“I enjoy road courses a lot and if you take the Roval one away, which was its own deal, I have never been in great contention to win one,” Blaney said. “I have run top 10 a lot and top five a little bit, but never the outright speed to go and lead laps and win. …Honestly, what made me happy about the pole was that we were fifth in our group, barely made the round of 10, and then picked up half a second I think from my first round to the last round.

“I was proud that we picked up that speed but it was still a ways off from what those guys ran in their initial runs. So I didn’t know how it was going to stack up. I just enjoyed that we picked up speed and that was nice, but I didn’t think we were going to sit on the pole. …That is really the only thing I look at, just getting your car better every time you go out and we were able to do that. Today it was good enough for the pole. Hopefully, it hangs on for tomorrow.”

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 7-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He's currently a freelancer and lead reporter and editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR show "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" on YouTube and in podcast form.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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