Blaney Completes A Penske Perfect Weekend

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 30 2023

Ryan Blaney celebrates with the checkers and fans after winning the 600 on Monday. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

CONCORD, N.C. – It was a Memorial Day weekend to remember for the legendary car owner known worldwide in motorsports circles as “The Captain.” 

 A day after Josef Newgarden soared into the lead on the final lap to hand team owner Roger Penske his record 19th victory in the Indianapolis 500, Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney grabbed the lead with 20 laps remaining at Charlotte Motor Speedway then pulled away from pole sitter William Byron to win Monday night’s rain delayed Coca-Cola 600.

“What a weekend with Newgarden and Roger winning at Indy and us winning the 600. And we snapped our (59 race) winless streak,” said Blaney, whose most-recent victory came at Daytona in August 2021.

Throughout the marathon event, Byron repeatedly capitalized on service under caution by his Hendrick Motorsports team in the coveted first pit box by constantly winning the race off pit road.

But it was Blaney who flexed short-run muscle and, like clockwork, passed Byron within two laps following each restart to reclaim the lead.

On the final restart, Blaney slowly began to inch away from Byron, who was left to contend with Martin Truex Jr.

Just as it appeared Truex would slip past Byron with 15 laps remaining and chisel into Blaney’s lead, the New Jersey native was unable to complete the pass and the pole sitter was relegated to following in the tire tracks of the No. 24 Chevrolet.

 “It was a handful,” said Truex, who wound up third. “We just battled really hard and never gave up on the car.

“We had some stumbles on pit road. We had some issues getting a flat tire with some contact leaving pit road, which wasn’t our fault. We just battled a lot of adversity today, but our No. 19 Toyota Camry was really fast.”

Bubba Wallace, who finished second in last weekend’s All-Star race, continued his series of strong runs by edging Tyler Reddick for fourth in the 600.

Originally scheduled to roll on Sunday night in front of a sellout crowd, the 400-lap event was delayed until Monday afternoon.

 Nearly three-fourths of Sunday’s ticket holders made their way back to the 1.5-mile oval located on the outskirts of Charlotte.

Water-logged by rain the entire weekend (Cup Series practice and qualifying was cancelled due to inclement weather), the fans’ patience proved to be worth the wait.

They were treated to a 600 that featured 31 lead changes and was slowed by 16 cautions.

Once underway, the race was plagued by a brief shower which resulted in the red flag being displayed for nearly 30 minutes.

The incident that will be discussed for days to come occurred on lap 186 when contact between Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin propelled the No. 11 Toyota nose-first in a vicious hit into the outside wall at the start-finish line.

Hamlin, who was credited with a 35th-place finish, was quick to call for Elliott’s suspension.

“I got right-rear hooked in the middle of the straightaway,” said Hamlin. “It’s a tantrum and he shouldn’t be racing next week (in St. Louis).

“Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable.”

Hamlin went on to compare the incident to a similar incident between Wallace and Kyle Larson a year ago. As a result, Wallace wound up serving a one-race NASCAR-imposed suspension.

But Elliott, the sport’s most popular driver, chalked it up as a racing incident and him being unable to steer his damaged No. 9 Chevrolet.

“The No. 11 ran us up into the fence there,” said Elliott, who finished 34th.

“Once you hit the wall in these things, you can’t drive them anymore. It was just an unfortunate circumstance.”

NASCAR issued a statement afterwards saying they will review the incident to determine if any penalty is forthcoming.

The feel-good story of the night was generated by last year’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith, who scored a 10th-place finish in his first Coca-Cola 600 start while driving for a team with a limited budget.

“It was just a great job by this whole 38 Boot Barn FRM team,” said Smith. “We got our Ford Mustang better during every single stop.

“We run on half the budget than a lot of these guys, so to finish in the Top 10 in our sixth start overall in the Cup Series and for it to come at the Coke 600 is really cool.”


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 30 2023
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