KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Raise your hand if prior to the season you had Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series sophomore Ryan Blaney advancing further in his first NASCAR Playoffs appearance than former champions Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch, or even Kyle Larson, who set the world on fire in 2017.
Blaney, himself, might not even be among that crowd, but the Wood Brothers Racing driver was one of eight drivers to move on to the next round after a third-place finish in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
“I didn’t really have any expectations (for our team) before the year, to be honest with you,” Blaney said after the race. “I don’t really set that stuff in my mind, I just try to go out and perform to the best of my abilities and whatever happens, happens. I think we’ve done a great job this year.”
Along with Blaney, race-winner Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott proceeded to the Round of 8.
Heading into the race, Blaney looked like a safe bet to advance given his track history and positioning on the good side of the bubble, but found himself in a significant hole after qualifying on Friday. After landing third overall in the final round, NASCAR officials found a problem with the rear of his No. 21 Ford, saying in a statement that “the package tray did not maintain its original shape.”
The 23-year-old’s qualifying time was disallowed, and he was forced to start Sunday’s race from the 40th position. He made haste.
“Yeah, it was a long day for sure, especially coming from the back,” Blaney said. “We made decent ground before the competition caution (on Lap 30). The deal that happened Friday, having to start in the back, coming back, having a pretty fast car there at the end really all race shows some pretty great resilience from the Wood Brothers team, and it definitely feels good to be moving on, for sure.”
The team has showed recent signs of the speed it exhibited in the early portion of the season, but Blaney has a significant challenge ahead of him next week at Martinsville. In three career starts, he’s never finished higher than 19th.
Still, at this point, it’s all gravy.
“I would say this is probably the most fun I’ve had racing, with anybody, no matter what car. It’s just been a really fun year and just to be competitive and still be in this thing is just a bonus to be honest with you,” he said.
“I didn’t really have any goals or expectations; I just wanted us to do well and see where it ended up. It’s going pretty decent for us and hopefully we can keep that going.”