For Ryan Blaney, race winner Martin Truex Jr. and runner-up finisher Kyle Busch “were just gone” by the end of Sunday’s race in Sonoma.
“Just gone” was how Blaney described the roughly 30-second gap from Truex and Busch back to Blaney’s No. 12 Ford, which took the checkered flag in third.
That gap didn’t take away from a much-needed run for the Team Penske driver.
It was Blaney’s first top five in seven races (fourth at Bristol). It was also his second straight top five on a road course, following his win in the inaugural race on the Charlotte Roval last fall.
Blaney was the only non-Toyota car in the top five.
“Kind of a smooth day for us,” Blaney told FS1. “Qualified decent. The way the stages are, you can either choose to finish the stage out, get stage points, but you have to restart way in the middle of the pack, or pit early. That’s kind of the strategy we wanted to do.”
With the pit early strategy, Blaney restarted in the top five on both restarts and was able to briefly take second place on the second restart before losing it to Kyle Busch on a bump-and-run.
In a race that didn’t see any non-stage cautions, the race went green over the final 45 laps and saw green flag stops start with 30 to go.
Blaney never saw the leaders again.
“(A caution) would have given us a shot. I had no shot if there wasn’t a yellow,” Blaney said. “They were really good on long runs. You just give yourself a hope of restarting close to them and trying to make a move. We almost got the lead one time on a restart. I was hoping to get that shot again but it never came.”
In a season where he’s been outshone by teammates Brad Keselowski (three wins) and Joey Logano (two wins), Blaney was the only competitive Penske driver. Keselowski ran 18th and Logano placed 23rd after experiencing battery problems.
Blaney’s previous best Sonoma result in three starts was ninth.
“You come into every weekend expecting to run well, no matter if it is your best track or worst track,” Blaney said. “We had top-five speed all weekend. Not winning speed. We kind of hung around all day. We were able to hang in there and stay out of trouble and able to come home with a decent day and a race car that was intact, which is good.”