Finally: Reigning Cup champion Ryan Blaney secures his spot in this year’s Playoffs

NEWTON, IOWA - JUNE 16: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Advance Auto Parts Ford, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Iowa Corn 350 at Iowa Speedway on June 16, 2024 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Coming into the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at Iowa Speedway, Ryan Blaney had yet to visit victory lane in 2024. Out of the 16 races before Iowa, he had three DNFs, including two in his last four outings. Additionally, Blaney experienced heartbreak at Gateway two weeks ago, leading at the white flag only to run out of fuel and watch his Penske teammate Austin Cindric steal what should have been his win.

However, Sunday was his night to shine. Blaney’s Team Penske crew executed a two-tire pit stop during the race’s eighth and final caution on lap 261 of 350, putting him back in the lead. From there, he held off William Byron, leading a race-high and career-high 201 laps.

“Overall, I really appreciate the whole 12 boys,” Blaney said. “Our car was really fast all night. We got a little bit better through the night, and two tires was a good call. I started to struggle a little at the end, but I had enough to hang on. I’m super proud of the effort.”

This win marked Blaney’s first Cup victory since Martinsville last fall, which had secured his spot in the Championship 4. It also completed a trifecta for him in Iowa, having won an Xfinity race in 2014 and a Truck series race in 2012.

After the race, Blaney celebrated with a rare burnout for his fans.

“Yeah, home track. I’ve got to,” Blaney said. “It means a lot. It’s cool to win in a Truck here, an Xfinity car here, and now a Cup car. That was cool. I’m worn out. It was a long race and driving hard. I figured I deserved a burnout, so hopefully Dale Inman isn’t too mad at me.”

Byron, on four tires, tried to make a run at Blaney in the closing laps but came up short by .716 of a second. Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounded out the top five. Byron wasn’t surprised that Blaney was able to hold him off with just two tires. “No, he had a really good car, so he was up front and contending a lot,” Byron said. “Him and the 5 were really good. We were just a step off. I feel like I just needed to turn the center a hair better and maintain the long run.”

Tires were an issue for some, though there weren’t any catastrophic failures resulting in hard crashes, except for AJ Allmendinger, who lost a tire coming into Turn 1 on lap 53. Zane Smith, Michael McDowell, Ross Chastain, and Erik Jones all suffered tire failures but were able to limp to pit road.

For most of the opening laps, it was the Kyle Larson show. The polesitter took control from Blaney on lap 10 after an early caution for a Corey LaJoie spin involving his Spire Racing teammates Zane Smith and Carson Hocevar. Blaney re-took the lead and won Stage 1, but Larson won the race off pit road. Three laps after the green, Larson, perhaps cautious after several drivers had blown tires during Friday’s practice, pitted under green reporting a possible issue. This move sent him to 33rd, with no tire issues reported.

Larson charged through the field, getting back to the lead by lap 189 and winning Stage 2. He came out of the pits third behind Chris Buescher, Todd Gilliland, and Brad Keselowski, who had taken only two tires. On lap 220, while trying to regain the lead, Larson made an aggressive move coming into Turn 3 and found himself three-wide. Daniel Suarez below him got loose, sending Larson’s Chevy up in front of Denny Hamlin and into the outside wall. Larson was forced to the garage, finishing 34th, 35 laps down, after leading 80 laps, the second most of the race.

Joey Logano finished sixth, and Josh Berry, who led the third most laps of the day (32), was seventh. “I thought we had a really good race and a really good car,” Berry said. “To score stage points like we did, we had some great restarts, but the last restart didn’t go our way. We lost a little track position and couldn’t get it back. All in all, I’m really proud of everybody on the 4 team. They did a great job. That was a lot of fun, for sure. We’re going to keep digging to keep getting better.”

Alex Bowman, Suarez, and Keselowski completed the top ten.

Blaney’s mother, Lisa, an Iowa native, was able to celebrate his first win of the season with a large contingent of family and friends.

“I’m looking forward to seeing them,” Blaney said. “It’s always good to have family. I’m super lucky to have family that supports me through my career, and it’s great that they’re still supporting me just as much as on Day 1. I always appreciate this sold-out crowd. It was a cool weekend and really cool to win the first Cup race here. I can’t wait for us to come back for many more years.”

After several forgettable weeks, Blaney now enters the NASCAR Playoff Push with his spot locked into the Round of 16. The series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next Sunday. Martin Truex Jr., who announced his plans to step away from full-time competition at the end of the season on Friday, is the defending winner.



Photos: NASCAR at Iowa Speedway Sunday June 16, 2024

Greg Engle