The O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday provided NASCAR fans with something they haven’t yet seen before. Ryan Blaney in his sophomore season virtually dominated the first two stages of the race.
Coming into Sunday’s race, Ryan Blaney had only tallied 33 laps led in his entire Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Career. That all changed in the 334 lap event that saw Blaney lead a race-high 148 laps.
Not only did Blaney lead the most laps, he recorded his first ever stage wins in MENCS competition, as he won the first and second stages of the race. Blaney appeared destined for his first career victory in the premier division of NASCAR, but that all changed at the start of Stage 3.
As previously mentioned, Blaney won the first two stages of Sunday’s race, but a caution late in Stage 2 would shuffle the leaderboard and would prevent Blaney from returning to the top of the running order.
The caution flag that waved late in Stage 2 allowed drivers to get off-sequence in their pitting cycles. Blaney said, “There was a lot of mixed strategies and we decided to try to win the segment which I thought was important to get those points and the extra bonus points. I thought we had enough of the race to go to try to work our way back up through there”. Only seven lead-lap cars would stay on the track, while the rest pitted, setting up a three-lap sprint to the finish of the stage.
Once the green-white-checkered flag was displayed to end Stage 2, Blaney and the other cars that previously stayed out would come down pit road for their routine service.
Blaney would return to the track in 20th place and would fall as low as 22nd, before starting the climb back towards the top. Blaney made it back to as high as 8th place in the final stage, before a late-race pit stop would end his hopes at winning the race.
A pit-road mishap occurred that Blaney later described, stating, “I slid through our pit box. That was an unfortunate deal, we were kind of pinned in between the 4 and the 88 and there was a weird angle and I just stopped a little deep. I hurt us on that one for sure”.
The O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 was the first MENCS race on the newly repaved and reconfigured surface at Texas Motor Speedway. “We just weren’t able to pass anybody after that (pit road), no one could really do that. I would like to see it (track) widen out a little bit more than it did today. I know if you tried to move up half a lane to a lane, it wasn’t really good. Hopefully, in time that gets better and better”, Blaney said of the new surface.
Blaney added that he was encouraged by his performance and the team’s overall performance and that it was nice to win stages, but he wanted to win the lap that mattered the most, the final one.
Although the 12th place finish that Blaney achieved does not reflect his overall effort at the 1.5-mile Texas oval, he and his team have something to build on as the series enters their off week, in observance of the Easter Holiday.
Blaney and the rest of the MENCS competitors will return to the track on Sunday, April 22nd for the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Photo Credit: Greg Atkins