The Midfielder – Ryan Blaney Finishes 19th in Auto Club 400

Ryan Blaney walks away from his car after finishing 19th in the Auto Club 400 in California on Sunday, March 1, 2020. (Alejandro Alvarez/NASCAR Digital Media)

FONTANA, California (March 1, 2020) — Ryan Blaney has had a remarkable start to the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, for all the wrong reasons.

In Daytona, Blaney had to endure the agony of the moment, wondering how he played a part in the catastrophic incident involving Ryan Newman. Immediately after emerging from his car, Blaney was visibly shaken, and at a loss for words as he lay in wait to find out the status of his fellow driver.

Blaney finished second in the Daytona 500, just inches behind winner Denny Hamlin. He would not be able relish in the moment at that time, but after receiving word a couple of long hours later that Newman was awake, and had non-life threatening injuries, Blaney would be able to begin the process of taking in the accomplishment of finishing runner-up in the “Great American Race”.

After receiving counsel from many, including his good friends Chase Elliott and Bubba Wallace, Blaney rolled into Las Vegas ready to cash in on the momentum bought in Daytona.

Blaney was strong in Vegas, battling for the win alongside Team Penske teammate Joey Logano for most of the race, including a fierce battle between the pair of Pennzoil sponsored machines in waning laps of the Pennzoil sponsored 400 miler.

His efforts on that day, however, were foiled after a late race caution. Crew Chief Todd Gordon called his driver to pit road for fresh tires, leading several others down as well. However, many, including eventual race winner Logano, did not pit. This ultimately resulted in an 11th place finish for Blaney, who just could not find his way back to the front after the restart.

Even still, going into the Auto Club 400 in California on Sunday, Blaney found himself sitting atop the NASCAR Cup Series points standings.

In California, Blaney sported a sharp Kobe Bryant inspired Body Armor paint scheme, honoring the late basketball great, his daughter, and the others that fell victim to a tragic helicopter crash in late January.

Starting 16th, Ryan Blaney worked his way forward as was a contender for the majority of the race. Blaney led 54 laps on the day, and gained a bonus playoff point for winning Stage 2.

Towards the end of the race, Blaney found himself trailing eventual race winner Alex Bowman by about two seconds. With just a handful of laps remaining, Blaney radioed that he felt a vibration. With just two laps left in the race, Blaney had no choice but to pit for a fresh tire, relegating this would be podium finish to a midfield 19th.

“Racing happens. Just corded a right rear there at the end and gave up a good finish,” Blaney told Fox. “Just lost the lead. They got (Bowman’s) car better, I just got kind of too loose at the end there.”

Crew Chief Todd Gordon applauded his driver’s efforts on the day.

“Ryan, I give him kudos,” Gordon told “He drove his guts out to try and get there, and we had the right rear come apart trying to do it. I think it’s positive. You are looking at a group that this is our third race together. We’ve been in contention to win all three of them.

“It’s been a good three races for us, but the last two we haven’t gotten the finishes we deserve,” Blaney said on pit road. “Hope our luck turns around.”

So far, even with the “bad luck”, and after accumulating 37 points on the day, including 10 from his stage win, Ryan Blaney finds himself still atop the points standings, with teammate Joey Logano 11 points back in second as the series concludes the west coast swing at Phoenix next weekend.

Last year in Phoenix, Blaney started from the pole, led 94 laps before losing the lead to race winner Kyle Busch and second place to Martin Truex Jr, finishing in third.

– Daniel Vining, Twitter: @danielvining

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PixelatedSPEED is a motorsports news and views website covering all things racing and has been going "Beyond the Headline" since 2018”.