Did Blaney sacrifice Texas race to win a stage?

FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 09: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, leads a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

FORTH WORTH, Tex. – Ryan Blaney couldn’t have asked for a better start to Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Grabbing the top spot from polesitter Kevin Harvick on two straight restarts within the first 37 laps, Blaney led 148 of the first 172 laps and in the process picked up a pair of stage wins and two playoff points toward the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

But Blaney’s race changed dramatically when crew chief Jeremy Bullins opted to keep him on the track when debris from Gray Gaulding’s car in Turn 1 caused the sixth caution of the day on Lap 163. All told, seven cars stayed out, giving Blaney plenty of cushion to win the second stage of the race, which concluded on Lap 170 after a three-lap sprint.

Then came the rub. Blaney had to pit under the caution that ended the stage and dropped from first to 20th behind the cars that had pitted under the previous yellow. Blaney never got back to the front, and after sliding through his pit box on his final stop, he finished 12th. In hindsight, would Blaney have preferred to have come to pit road with the majority of cars before the end of the stage and sacrificed a stage win for better prospects at the end of the race?

“It’s easy to look back on it and say, ‘Oh, we should have done this, should have done that,” Blaney said. “Now I say we should have stayed out the last caution (at the end of the race) and might have had a better shot at it.  But you can’t really change any of that now. Yeah, in hindsight, to answer your question, that was kind of a judgment call.

“You give up a stage win and 10 points and a bonus point for the playoffs to try to set yourself for the end of the race. We thought we had enough time after segment 2 to try to work our way back up through there, and a restart actually after segment 2 really went bad for us. We got jumbled up in (Turns) 1 and 2 and let a lot of cars get by.

“That was kind of the deciding factor, I feel like. I let a lot of good cars get by like the 48 (race winner Jimmie Johnson) and 42 (runner-up Kyle Larson and 24 (Chase Elliott). What hurt us more, I think, than anything was that restart after segment 2 when we had to check up big in (Turns) 1 and 2. I thought we made the right call to stay out there and try to win that segment. I’m for that.”

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