Ryan Blaney flexes road-course muscle in wine country

SONOMA, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 23: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, and Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 PPG Ford, lead a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 23, 2019 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)

Even though he ran a distant third to Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney’s fortunes at Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series road courses have been looking up.

In last year’s Playoffs, Blaney won at the Charlotte Roval after Truex and Jimmie Johnson collided in the final chicane. And in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, he enjoyed a stress-free race running behind the leading pair of Truex and Kyle Busch.

“Kind of smooth day for us,” acknowledged Blaney, who leaves the 2.52-mile road courses ninth in the series standings and well inside the Playoff cut line. “Qualified decent. The way the stages are, you can either choose to finish the stage out, get stage points, but you have to restart way in the middle of the pack.

“Or (you can) pit early. That’s kind of the strategy we wanted to do.”

Sacrificing stage points by pitting early proved beneficial at the end of the race.

“Today, even though you hate giving up stage points, you just get yourself ahead of all the mess,” said Blaney, who finished more than 33 seconds behind the race winner. “You can kind of get in your own rhythm, do your own thing, not have to worry about someone behind you and in front of you all the time.

“A real decent day for the PPG Ford Mustang. Those top two guys were just gone. All the Gibbs cars looked pretty good. They got something figured out.”

Greg Engle