No. 12 MENARDS/RICHMOND FORD MUSTANG
STAGE ONE: 5TH
STAGE TWO: 7TH
Ryan Blaney and the Menards/Richmond Ford Mustang started from the outside of row two to begin the NASCAR Playoffs Sunday night at Darlington Raceway and maintained top-five speed on the opening run of the 500-mile event. Following a pair of scheduled green flag pit stops during the first 115-lap segment, Blaney battled his way to a fifth-place finish in Stage 1 as the No. 12 team continued to make adjustments to alleviate a loose-handling condition that set in over the long run. During the opening run of Stage 2, Blaney began to struggle with the handling on corner entry and exit but maintained his spot in the top-10 before green flag pit stops cycled when he brought his Ford Mustang to pit road on lap 149 for four tires, fuel, and another round of adjustments. He was called to pit road following the caution on lap 178 before the red flag brought the field to a halt on the backstretch due to track lighting issues and lined up to restart seventh with 39 laps to go in the second stage. While Blaney continued to hold on to the seventh spot in the running order, a pair of cautions within ten laps of each other stacked up the field to set up a one-lap shootout to the end of Stage 2. Blaney was able to fend off the top lane on the restart to cross the line seventh at the conclusion of the stage to add on to his point total. The No. 12 team opted to bring Blaney to pit road during the stage break for four tires and fuel while a majority of the leaders stayed out, miring him back in 24th-place to take the green flag for the final segment. The Menards/Richmond Ford began to work its way tight over the course of the next green flag run, but a flurry of cautions over the final 60 laps allowed the No. 12 team to continue to work on the handling and regain track position as the laps ticked off. After staying out following the final caution of the night on lap 330, Blaney lined up ninth with 30 laps to go and maintained his pace the rest of the way to secure a ninth-place finish in the opening race of the Round of 16, marking his 13th top-10 finish of the season.
"This race is such a weird race. It just goes through so many swings throughout the day and night. You start off the race in the full sun and it's hot and by the end of the second stage it's all night time and the track temperature changes. This place is really tricky with how the track changes and it went the complete opposite way of what we thought it was going to go, so that kind of threw us for a little bit of a loop. It was just a weird pit strategy race, too. You usually don't get that here, but just the way the cautions fell. There was a group of people with two laps on their tires and then split and it was kind of a wacky race. Luckily, we were able to get back to ninth. It was a hard-fought battle, for sure. I'm proud of the effort and it was a decent day on points."