When Ryan Blaney dove down under Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, the moment seemed right.
The Advance Auto Parts Clash was in the midst of its final laps. Teammate Joey Logano was trailing, and with restrictor plate ace Keselowski leading, it would likely take a strong effort from both Blaney and Logano to take over the top spot.
Yet when Blaney dove low, no one followed.
His initial run gave him a peak under Keselowski, but Logano didn’t follow Blaney to the inside.
With no drafting partner, Blaney drifted back. The High Point, N.C. native could only watch as his teammates battled for the win before settling for a fourth-place result in his full-time Penske debut.
“I was just really trying to time the run and that is what I was messing with with Joey behind me,” Blaney said. “I thought we were in a good spot. Even though Brad is one of the best at doing this, I thought we had a good chance at it. We had a decent run through the trio val and I probably didn’t pull out at a very good time.
“I thought it was enough but I got hung out. I should know better than that. I need to learn from that.”
Blaney, 24, made his first start in the season-opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series exhibition race, running in the event for Penske after earning his place in the field with two poles for Wood Brothers Racing in 2017.
Like the rest of the 17-car field, Blaney’s position in the running order fluctuated during the early stages of the event – a consequence of each driver trying to learn about the new 2018 rules package on the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway.
“I thought the cars would be a handful and at times they were,” Blaney said. “You can get pretty loose and the bumps shoot you around. Not too bad. Something to be aggressive with, which is what you need. You can always get a little more and maybe we will learn more about that in the Duels and 500.”
The 2017 Cup Series playoff participant didn’t lead any of the race’s 75 laps, but as the on-track action began to simmer down in the race’s middle stage Blaney positioned himself perfectly for a run to the checkered flag.
By the time the field had gone single-file for the final 20 circuits Blaney found himself in second, surrounded by Penske teammates Keselowski and Logano. When the rest of the pack behind them elected to ride around in a train until the final lap, the Penske trio were left with a stranglehold on the race.
That gave Blaney the opportunity to make a move for the win, albeit one that didn’t work out. Now with their lessons learned, Blaney and the newly-formed Penske No. 12 team can focus on the big prize – next weekend’s Daytona 500.
“I am proud of our team today, Menards and Peak, our first race with them,” Blaney said. “I think we learned a bunch for next week. I hope we can apply it.”