- A rollercoaster night for Ryan Blaney ended with 13th-place finish in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 Sunday night at Darlington Raceway. The driver of the Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang officially clinched a spot in the NASCAR Playoffs entering the regular season finale next weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Blaney is 10th in NASCAR Cup Series point standings, four points behind ninth-place Kyle Larson and 273 behind leader Kyle Busch.
- Blaney started 10th in the 367-lap event at the track “Too Tough to Tame.” Following a lengthy rain delay, The High Point, N.C. native drove up to sixth position within the first 10 laps of the race. Moments later he reported to crew chief Jeremy Bullins that his Ford Mustang was tight on both ends of the speedway and he slipped back to seventh position at the time of the competition caution on lap 37. He pitted during the caution for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment and restarted eighth on lap 40. He soon reported that the balance on his Mustang had shifted to the loose side and he fell back to 18th when the second caution slowed the pace on lap 69. Blaney pitted for tires, fuel and additional air pressure adjustment under the yellow and restarted 17th on lap 72 and finished 18th when Stage 1 concluded on lap 100. Under the stage break, the Menards crew would make additional wedge and air pressure adjustment on a lap 103 pit stop.
- Stage 2 went green on lap 106 and Blaney soon reported the adjustments made during the stage break didn’t improve the overall balance, saying his Mustang was in a four-wheel slide. He would visit pit road again under the fourth caution on lap 142 for new tires and more chassis adjustments. Excellent work by the pit crew moved him up a spot on the restart on lap 145. The race ran green for the next 16 laps and Blaney reported improvement to the handling characteristics of his Mustang. Bullins made air pressure and track bar adjustments during a stop under caution on lap 160 and another solid pit stop by the Menards crew moved Blaney up to 13th for the restart. His car remained loose when Stage 2 ended on lap 200, dropping Blaney to 16th. Blaney pitted for tires and more adjustments during the stage caution and restarted 16th when the race went green on lap 206.
- The balance of the Menards/Pennzoil Ford remained loose in Stage 3. Bullins decided to short-pit on lap 250 for tires, fuel and air pressure adjustment. Blaney used the fresh tires to gain several positions over cars that pitted later in the run.
- The seventh and final caution on lap 276 gave the Menards/Pennzoil team the opportunity to pit for four new tires plus wedge and air pressure adjustments. Blaney restarted 10th, the highest he had since earlier in the race, but the No. 12 Mustang remained loose. He fell to 13th before making his final stop of the night under green on lap 321 for tires and one final round of adjustments. He held off teammate Joey Logano during the closing laps of the race to finish 13th, equaling his best Cup finish at Darlington.
Quote: “We struggled with the balance all night on the Menards/Pennzoil Ford. We just couldn’t get the car to work the way we wanted. I’m proud of my team for not giving up and we locked ourselves in the Playoffs on points so I’m happy about that for sure.”