Ryan Blaney and Wood Brothers Racing overcame an average starting position, a pit road penalty and minor brushes with another car and the wall to bring the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion to the checkered flag in ninth place Sunday at the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
The finish is the team’s third top-10 result in the first five races of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
A close call getting the iconic No. 21 through inspection prior to qualifying and a “missed” qualifying set up led to a 19th-place starting position, which Blaney quickly remedied by driving into the top 10 within 10 laps.
“I thought at the beginning of the first stage we were really good,” Blaney said. “We drove up there.”
The No. 21 was a top-10 car through the first stage and collected two points by finishing ninth. A pit road penalty for loose equipment between stages put the Motorcraft/Quick Lane entry back to 19th.
“In the middle (stage) we had equipment leave the pit box and that put us in a big hole back there, but we did a good job fighting back, putting ourselves in a decent position to have a good finish and a decent shot at (the win),” Blaney said.
Complicating the team’s effort was a minor brush with another car toward the end of Stage 1 that required a little extra time in the pits and a slight touch of the wall later in the contest.
Although Blaney finished out of the points in Stage 2 for only the third time in the five races run so far, he was back in the top 10 by lap 132 and solidified his position with strong re-starts for most of the rest of the race.
“We got a little bit more consistent at the end of the race,” Blaney explained. “Most re-starts worked in our favor except the last one. We just got put three-wide there and kind of got hurt.
“Overall, not a bad day for us coming back from that pit road penalty,” he continued. “That was pretty good.”
With the ninth-place finish at Fontana, and the two Stage 1 points, Blaney drops from sixth to seventh in the driver points standings.
The NASCAR circuit heads back east next weekend, April 2, for the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, a home game for the Stuart-based Wood Brothers. The race begins at 2 p.m. ET.