Rookie Ryan Blaney drives like a veteran to finish fourth at MIS

BY foxsports • August 28, 2016

Ryan Blaney might be a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie, but he frequently talks and acts like a veteran.

On Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, he also drove like one.

A a result, Blaney finished fourth on a day when disaster could have struck early in the 200-lap Pure Michigan 400 at the 2-mile track. Blaney started seventh and spent most of the day around the top five, but on Lap 62 he reported to his team that he felt his right-front tire going down.

Blaney quickly pitted and changed tires, although there was some slight damage to his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford. The cord came apart in such a way that it poked a small hole in the hood of the car.

"It just unraveled," Blaney said. "It didn't blow. At least it went down in a spot where it really didn't hurt us. We lost a lot of time but I'm surprised we didn't hurt our car more. We were lucky it was kind of in a fuel window and that it didn't happen again."

On the final restart with 10 laps to go, Blaney found himself starting in the second row behind race leader and good buddy Chase Elliott, a fellow Sprint Cup rookie also seeking his first win in NASCAR's top series.

When Elliott spun his tires on the restart, Blaney tried to push Elliott's No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet -- actually lifting the rear tires of the No. 24 off the ground briefly.

Meanwhile, eventual race winner Kyle Larson also spun his tires, but was able to get a better push from Brad Keselowski from the inside of the second row. That enabled Larson to take a lead he never relinquished.

"I was trying to push the 24 and the 4 (of Kevin Harvick) was pushing me," Blaney said. "It was kind of a big bottleneck. I thought we were in a decent spot for that last restart but it didn't really work out great."

It worked out well enough for Blaney to score his seventh top-10 finish of the season.

All in all, he was pretty pleased with his day in the Irish Hills of Michigan.

"I don't think we ever fell out of the top 10 all day, which was pretty nice," Blaney said. "It was just a solid day for us. It was probably one of the smoothest weekends we've had.

"These are the days we need. These are the days this team deserves. We always want to win in Ford's backyard but we will go on to Darlington and try to get it done there. ... It was kind of a decent day for us and there's nothing to complain about."

There is, of course, much work still left to be done. Blaney is now 17th in the points standings but 20th on the Chase grid, meaning he needs to win one of the last two regular-season races at Darlington or Richmond to get into NASCAR's playoffs.

When asked what the goal is going into the final two races before the 16-driver Chase field is set, Blaney was blunt in his answer.

 "Win. That's the goal," he said, speaking like a true series veteran.