Ryan Blaney drove the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion to eighth place Sunday in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway’s Monster Mile. It was his third consecutive top-10 finish and his fifth so far in the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Starting his first Cup race at Dover in 18th on the grid after qualifying was rained out on Friday, Blaney spent the first 140 laps right where he started, struggling with handling on the one-mile track’s high-banked corners. A two-tire pit stop under caution on lap 144 put the rookie driver and the Wood Brothers’ iconic No. 21 Ford into the top 10.
Blaney slid back to the mid-teens during the middle part of the race while his pit crew continued to improve his car’s handling.
“It was a long day,” he said. “We got better throughout the day.”
The car was where it needed to be by lap 300, and again Blaney got into, and stayed in the top 10, although he slipped from sixth to eighth in the final laps.
“I don’t know what happened to us in that last run,” the 22-year-old rookie said. “We weren’t nearly as good as we were the runs before that. I was confident we would finish better (than eighth) but we will have to look back and see what we changed and what happened. Not a bad day for us. It was a good, solid run and hopefully we can start stringing together some of these good finishes.”
Blaney continued his almost uncanny knack for avoiding major wrecks, missing two in the latter stages of the AAA 400 Driver for Autism.
“It got wild there for a while and there were a couple big wrecks,” he said. “We missed the big one. I don’t know how we missed it, but somehow we did. It was definitely a strange day and definitely a strange first Dover Cup race for me.”
Blaney is now 15th in the driver points standings as the Wood Brothers head to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Showdown and the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race this weekend.