E.A. Sports Today

Blaney posts best Cup finish

Upstart with pedigree finishes fourth in Geico 500

Ryan Blaney (21) runs up front with Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88), Greg Biffle (14) and Jeff Gordon. He finished fourth.

Ryan Blaney (21) runs up front with Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88), Greg Biffle (14) and Jeff Gordon. He finished fourth.

By Matthew Gruber
For East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA — Talladega Superspeedway is famous for big wrecks and upset victories by upstart drivers. For a good portion of Sunday’s Geico 500, 21-year-old Ryan Blaney seemed poised to join the long list of drivers who earned their first NASCAR victory at Talladega.

Ultimately, Blaney, backed-up his third-place qualifying spot and outperformed every Ford in the field on his way to a career-best fourth-place finish.

“We had a good car all day,” Blaney said. “We had speed in qualifying and ran up front a little bit during the day. We got shuffled back a few times and we were able to work our way back up through there.”

Blaney found himself third in a long string of cars as the laps wound down Sunday. Denny Hamlin took his car beneath Blaney’s No. 21 Motorcraft Ford and forced the rookie out of the draft, but Blaney was able to charge back for his best showing in six career Cup races, and the best finish for his legendary Wood Brothers team since their upset win with Trevor Bayne in the 2011 Daytona 500.

“I knew Denny was going to make a move; I thought he was going to do it sooner than he did,” Blaney said. “I didn’t think he had a big enough run to pass us, but luckily Sam Hornish picked me up there on the frontstretch, and we were able to get back up through there.”

Blaney, the son of former open-wheel and NASCAR driver Dave Blaney who already owns victories on the NASCAR Camping World Series and Xfinity Series, is running a partial-schedule across all three series in 2015. He splits time in the Roger Penske-owned No. 22 Ford on the Xfinity Series.
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Blaney’s Wood Brothers’ team is now in an alliance with Penske Racing, which also fields cars for the top teams of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Penske has hinted he would be open to fielding a third team for Blaney in the future if sponsorship can be secured, perhaps setting him up as Ford’s representative in a future rivalry with fellow youngsters Chase Elliott of Chevrolet and Toyota’s Erik Jones.

This was Blaney’s third Cup start of the season, but his first finish, as he suffered engine failures at both Daytona and Texas.

“Not a bad day after blowing up at Daytona and Texas,” Blaney said. “It’s nice to get a good finish for these guys.”

Matthew Gruber is a freelance writer from Florence.

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