Ryan Blaney scores first career NASCAR Cup win after hard fought battle at Pocono

LONG POND, PA - JUNE 11: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Axalta presents the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 11, 2017 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

It finally happened.  After coming close on several occasions, rising star Ryan Blaney scored his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win Sunday holding off 2014 champion Kevin Harvick to win by .137 of a second at Pocono Raceway.

Blaney took the lead 9 laps from the finish from polesitter Kyle Busch. The two fought for the spot side by side for several laps before Blaney, on fresher tires was able to take the lead.  Harvick soon had second and was closing the gap. On the final lap Harvick was at Blaney’s bumper but could not complete the pass and Blaney took the Wood Brothers Ford to victory for the first time since 2011, and for his first time in 68 career starts.

“Kyle stayed out and he was on a little bit older tires and it looked like he was getting pretty tight,” Blaney said. “Especially off of one and that’s where new tires really seemed to come alive because you could hold the line and get runs on him, downshift and get next to him.  I had a big run on him off of three and he did a good job blocking, and we were able to get under him, but then I had to hold the 4 off.  He was super-fast.  I can’t thank Kevin enough for racing me clean.  That was really cool of him, but it was definitely hectic.  Hopefully the fans liked it.  It was really cool.”

Harvick remains winless this season.

“We ran him down, just never could charge the corner hard enough to get to his bumper,” Harvick said.  “That was our only weakness.  I mean, we had the car where we needed it pretty much in every corner, just couldn’t charge any of the corners like I needed to with the stopping power that I had.”

Erik Jones used a two-tire pit call to finish a career best third with Kurt Busch fourth and Brad Keselowski fifth.

The complexion of the race changed several times due to stage racing and differing fuel strategies.

The biggest loser in terms of that strategy was Kyle Busch. For the third time this season Busch led the most laps, 100, only to see victory slip away.  It happened during the final round of pit stops on lap 141 when the race’s fourth and final caution waved when Kasey Kahne hit the wall. Most of the leaders came in for tires.  Busch’s interim crew chief Ben Beshore, subbing for Adam Stevens who was suspended by NASCAR for four races after the crew failed to secure a tire at Dover, elected to keep Busch out.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was no match for newer tires. Busch finished ninth just ahead of fellow JGR driver Matt Kenseth.

Martin Truex Jr. retained the championship points lead with a sixth-place finish.  Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott finished seventh and eighth ahead of Busch and Kenseth.

The rest of the Hendrick Motorsports stable didn’t fare as well as Elliott’s top 10 finish.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. was forced to the garage when he mis-shifted again damaging his engine. It was the same error that happened Friday prior to qualifying and forced Earnhardt to start in the rear of the field Sunday. Jimmie Johnson had a scary moment when on lap 95 while running seventh, the brakes failed on his Chevy at the fastest part of the 2.5-mile track; entering turn 1 at the end of the longest frontstretch in NASCAR.

Jamie McMurray also in a Chevy running just behind Johnson also suffered the same fate; his Chevy caught fire after hitting the wall and McMurray was forced to abandon it in a hurry.

Johnson climbed from his mangled car, walked slowly to the wall and sat down for several moments. Both drivers were later checked out at the infield care center and released. NASCAR red flagged the race for 23 minutes.

“I can only speculate that I got the brakes too hot and when I went to the brakes they just traveled straight to the floor,” Johnson said.  “I didn’t even have a pedal to push on. At that point, I threw it in third gear and I was just trying to slow it down.  I was heading to the grass and I was wondering why I didn’t turn right and get to the wall sooner, but I’m fine.  Certainly, a big scare.  I haven’t had a scare like that since 2000 at Watkins Glen.  So, just want to let my wife and kids and my mom know that I’m okay and I will go change my underwear and get ready to go home.”

NASCAR heads to Michigan International Speedway for next Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400. Live coverage will be on Fox Sports 1 at 3:00p.m. ET.

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