DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Leading a race-high 118 laps, Ryan Blaney’s No. 12 Team Penske Ford seemed like the one to beat throughout Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
But the nature of Daytona dictates that nothing is guaranteed — that’s what Blaney found out Sunday. As the checkered flag flew and race winner Austin Dillon celebrated on the front stretch, Blaney debriefed with crew chief Jeremy Bullins on pit road following a seventh-place finish, getting fist bumps from crew members and No. 21 driver Paul Menard.
He may not have won, but he sure put on a show.
“You can have the best car in the world and not win the race,” Blaney said. “I thought we had a good car today but you just try to figure out what you can do better for next time and it’s a shame it didn’t work out for us, but you try to live and learn and live and move on.
“Yeah, you’re disappointed, you dominate a good race, but that’s the way it goes.”
Blaney’s No. 12 made contact with Kurt Busch’s No. 41 Ford at Lap 198, triggering a multi-car pileup that collected 10 additional cars. Blaney’s No. 12 sustained damage and was forced to pit for repairs.
“It was just hard racing,” he said. “You say it all day. I was trying to be aggressive blocking the lead and kind of fell back and got a good run back up towards it. Man, the 11 blocked the 41 and the 41 kind of went high last minute and I was on his left rear and I turned him. I feel bad about that. He kinda changed lanes last minute and I couldn’t react quick enough. It stinks. We led a lot of laps.
“It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Showing speed throughout the entire weekend, the 24-year-old also won the first Can-Am Duel on Thursday night. Sunday, he paced the field five times after starting from the third position and won Stage 2, gathering valuable points. The showing was enough to crown Blaney the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader heading into the rest of the 2018 season.
Apart from the finish, their day was something to be pleased about, Bullins said.
“To be honest with you, it’s absolutely the day we wanted,” he told NASCAR.com. “We were able to win a stage and get a lot of points, led a lot of laps and felt like we were in a really good position until that last caution came out.
“It’s everything you can ever hope for, is to be up front towards the end of these things, obviously the way it ended was not what we wanted, but the day itself was very good; we had a great car, Ryan did a good job managing the lead for a long time.”
Sunday’s race also marked Blaney’s first points race behind the wheel of the Team Penske’s newly added No. 12 Ford; he previously drove the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford, an affiliate of Team Penske.
A near-win at Daytona is a good start to the season for the new No. 12 team.
“We worked a lot this winter to be in this position and it’s unfortunate that one of our cars didn’t win the race because I felt like Speedweeks definitely showed the hard work that everybody put in and we definitely had the best cars all week,” Bullins said. “I think it bodes well for the speedway program for us for the rest of the year because we’ve got a really good place to learn from.
“Starting off with this 12 team, I feel like we’ve got good momentum and we’re looking forward to going to Atlanta.”