KANSAS CITY, Kan - The first night race of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season brought a little bit of everything with it, including a scary wreck and a near historic Ford win. Ryan Blaney, led the field to green after capturing his first career pole, and led 83 laps on his way to a fourth place finish behind Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and race winner Ryan Truex.
The excitement of three Fords in the top-five and six in the top-11 was overshadowed by a scary multi-car accident on lap 198 when Joey Logano had a part failure in the right front of his race car, causing a chain reaction fiery crash that collected Ford teammates Danica Patrick and Aric Almirola. Logano and Patrick escaped relatively unscathed but Almirola had to be cut from his car and airlifted to nearby University of Kansas Medical Center for observation. At the time of this story, no updates were available on Almirola’s condition although Fox television reported he was alert responsive as he left the scene.
The feel-good story of the night was Blaney and the Wood Brothers who looked poised to snap a 119 race winless streak for the organization. Blaney battled in the top-five all night long, leading eight different times, including at the end of Stage 2. He would also take the lead again on lap 42 and flirt inside the top-three on the final restart with just 3 laps remaining.
Race runner-up Keselowski came from nowhere, utilizing a flurry of lace rate restarts to grab second. Kansas native Clint Bowyer finished ninth and Trevor Bayne 10th while last week’s winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. landed in 11th.
The Monster Energy Series returns to the track for non-points action next Saturday night with All-Star weekend activities. The Monster Energy Open will take place at 6:00 p.m. and the Monster Energy All-Star Race at 8:00 p.m. from Charlotte Motor Speedway (Saturday, 6 & 8:00 p.m. ET, FS1).
2nd Brad Keselowski
3rd Kevin Harvick
4th Ryan Blaney
9th Clint Bowyer
10th Trevor Bayne
11th Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
17th David Ragan
19th Kurt Busch
21st Landon Cassill
32nd Matt DiBenedetto
36th Danica Patrick
37th Joey Logano
38th Aric Almirola
RYAN BLANEY (No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion) -- Finished 4th
WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON TONIGHT? “Yeah, it happens I guess. We weren’t very good on the long run. I felt that we had a great short run car tonight and I thought that was going to play right into our hands at the end. The 78 got us on that restart somehow. I don’t know. I was super loose there on the last restarts and the 78 got me spinning my tires a little bit. It kind of stinks. I think that it says a lot about this team to go out and lead some laps and go have a shot and win races.”
KEVIN HARVICK (No. 4 Busch Light Ford Fusion) -- Finished 3rd
“It was a solid night. Our Busch Light Ford was fast and we were able to come through the field and do what we needed to do. We had the restarts there and the 21 and 2 hung on my right rear and just lost the 78 and we never really had a chance to catch him there at the end. We worked on it quite a bit and had good pit stops. We had to adjust the balance on it throughout the night. Our Bush Light Ford was solid all night. I got us a lap down there when I had a tire coming apart. It was vibrating really bad. We came back through the field. It just didn’t line up for us there at the end.”
BRAD KESELOWSKI (No. 2 Elite Support Ford Fusion) -- Finished 2nd
“We caught a couple breaks there on those restarts and made the most of them. That was good. We had a really great Freightliner Elite Support Ford just kept getting caught in adversity there. We worked our way through it. It stinks we finished second and still lost points because we didn’t get those stage points. All in all we had a really fast Ford and have a lot to be proud of. We will move on to the next week.”
CLINT BOWYER (No. 14 Mobil 1 Annual Protection Ford Fusion) -- Finished 9th
YOU COME AWAY WITH A TOP-10 TONIGHT. “That just wasn’t very good tonight. We were kind of off all weekend. Definitely off in the race. I started off good and we were just down on rear grip. I fought loose the whole time I was out there and it seemed like everything we were doing - we were doing some fundamentally different things to try to tighten the car up. It changes the aero balance of the car and I am not too sure. Maybe we learned something tonight.”
DID YOU HAVE A LOOK AT THAT BIG WRECK? “That was scary. You hate to see anybody that you race against and know, know their kids and everything else get cut out like that. It is scary for everybody. I hope he is okay. Hope it isn’t anything too major and he is back soon.”
TREVOR BAYNE (No 6. AdvoCare Ford Fusion) -- Finished 10th
“That was a hard-fought 10th place finish. If you’d told me I would finish 10th after practice I would have probably kissed you on the forehead. That wasn’t a good practice for us and we still qualified 16th. it is funny how expectations change. A year ago I would have been pumped for a 10th and now it is what we should be doing. We are getting better. Our potential is better. If we can finish 10th on a weekend like this, when we get the cars where we need them we can do business. I appreciate the hard work and execution by my team tonight.”
JOEY LOGANO (No. 22 AAA Ford Fusion) INVOLVED IN WRECK ON LAP 198
ARE YOU OKAY? “Yeah, I'm okay. Just saying a lot of prayers for Aric (Almirola) right now. A lot of us took a hard hit. Something broke on my car, I don't know what it was. I noticed it as I was trying to go in. I tried to back it off but you're going 215 (mph) and it's hard to check up. The car just took a bit step sideways into the corner and I hooked Danica (Patrick). I haven't seen a replay yet, I don't know what happened. You can see the right-front popped (right there) and it popped. I just hope everyone is okay. I hope Aric is alright. That's the last thing you want to see, a big hit like that for anyone. It's unfortunate for everyone. Let's hope that Aric is alright."
DID YOU HAVE ANY INDICATION? WAS THERE ANYTHING WITH THE HANDLING OF YOUR CAR LEADING UP TO THAT POINT? "Yeah, out of nowhere. Just out of nowhere. Everything was fine and then it just took a hard right. Everyone pray for Aric right now."
HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO TALK TO DANICA? "We were back in the ambulance together and I just told here something broke. There's nothing I could have done. I don't know what happened. Like I said, something broke and tore up a bunch of really good cars."
DANICA PATRICK (No. 10 Wonder Woman/One Cure Ford Fusion) - INVOLVED IN WRECK ON LAP 198
WHAT HAPPENED? “We were having a really good race and having fun out there and had a lot of speed. I kinda felt like Wonder Woman for a little while. All I know is that I all of a sudden crashed. I definitely had a feeling it was the 22 and I am sure that the doctors in the medical center checking my neurological abilities are glad to know I was right that it was Joey. When he said he had a failure I can’t say it made me feel that much better in the moment. I am just frustrated for the lack of breaks I get. It seems like every time things are going better and something happens I get crashed or am in a crash. Especially a place like this, a brake rotor, when we are using 200-300 pounds of pressure seems odd. Unfortunately there were two of us that got collected and while I am okay, one of these times one if these really big accidents someone is not going to be okay. Aric (Almirola) is not okay and his car looked the best of everybody. You never know when it is going to be the wrong hit. I have a team that works hard and put another car on the track and I hope we are saving up for a really good run of good luck.”
WE SAW THE VISIBLE FRUSTRATION AFTER YOU GOT OUT OF YOUR CAR. WHAT WAS THE CONVERSATION LIKE IN THE AMBULANCE WITH JOEY? “I think I said everything I needed to say before I got in. I said something else in there and I just - really if he had a failure there is really nothing you can do about that. That is unfortunate and me and Aric are unfortunate recipients of that problem. It isn’t that I haven’t had issues with Joey in the past so to think it was something else was imaginable.”
BRAD KESELOWSKI (RUNNER UP PRESS CONFERENCE
IT WAS A WILD RACE OUT THERE TONIGHT AND A WILD FINAL RESTART. YOU WERE ABLE TO MAKE A LOT OF MOVES TO GET UP THERE INTO A SECOND‑PLACE FINISH. WOULD YOU PLEASE WALK US THROUGH THAT FINAL RESTART AND HOW YOU WERE ABLE TO BRING THAT HOME. “Well, so much happened, I'm not sure I even know. But we were really good all day and just never had a chance to show it. Every time we started to pass cars and cycle up to the front, we had some kind of issue, which was a real bummer to not be able to showcase the strength that we had. Towards the end we were able to get some runs and make the most of it, and I think we went from probably 20th with 100 to go to second, which was a pretty big climb in the sport. That's something to be proud of, but I kind of feel like I would have liked to have seen if it would have just played out normal, and I think we might have had a shot at him.
WHEN THERE'S AN INCIDENT LIKE THE ONE WITH ABOUT 67 MILES TO GO AND YOU'RE RED FLAGGED, HOW HARD IS IT TO CONCENTRATE WHEN YOU KNOW KIND OF THE DANGER OF THE SPORT KIND OF THROWN IN YOUR FACE LIKE THAT? “Well, it's not a good thing, but I mean, it kind of feels a little selfish about how hard it is for me to concentrate when somebody else is hurt. It's not a good situation. I don't know the specifics of what's going on or the severity of injuries. I guess maybe you guys can probably articulate that a little bit better, but hopefully everyone is okay, and my ability to recover from that is not really a story in my mind.”
AS A DRIVER, AS AN OWNER, AS A FAN OF THE SPORT, YOUR FAMILY IS ALL ABOUT THE SPORT, HOW DO YOU COMPARTMENTALIZE AND JUST WHAT GOES INTO YOUR MIND WHEN THESE THINGS DO HAPPEN? “Well, I mean, it's a dangerous sport. Always has been, always will be. Sometimes we forget that and maybe take for granted that you see real hard hits and people walk away, and then you see one where someone doesn't, and it puts things back into perspective just how dangerous it can be.”
YOU WERE SECOND IN CALIFORNIA, FOUGHT BACK LIKE THAT. NOW YOU DID IT AT KANSAS HERE. I KNOW 11 RACES IN, IT'S REALLY EARLY TO TALK ABOUT THE CHAMPIONSHIP, BUT IN THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS, DO YOU TAKE A SECOND PLACE LIKE HERE AND THERE AND LOOK AT IT AS MORE REWARDING THAN A TYPICAL SECOND PLACE BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU HAD TO FIGHT THROUGH? “Yeah, probably before the stages came in, yes. Now, no. You know, we finished second here two or three weeks, and last week we finished seventh and lost points all three weeks because of the stages. You have to run up front. You have to get through the early and middle part of the race without having issues or you lose points, so that's one of the beauties of this format is you can't just kind of buzzard‑pick at the end. So we still lost points today, which is a bummer, considering that we finished second, and I think fifth or sixth in one of those stages. But that just shows how tough the competition is and how important the stages are.”
RYAN BLANEY POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE
RYAN, NOT THE FINISH THAT YOU WANTED TONIGHT, BUT STILL A HECK OF A RUN OUT THERE. WOULD YOU PLEASE WALK US THROUGH HOW YOUR RACE WENT? “Yeah, I thought we made a lot of changes throughout the race, and we were really loose most of the race, and getting worse and worse as the run went on, and 78 and a couple cars seemed to be better than us later in runs, but I felt like we were the best car from maybe 15, 20 laps, especially if we were out front, and we got that caution at the end and beat the 78 off pit road, and I thought we were in a pretty good spot, and he made a really good move on that restart and was able to pass us, and then we had a couple more opportunities towards the end of that race, and he got a couple really good restarts and I didn't, and that was kind of the deciding factor. I don't know if I could have held him off even though I was really free the last two runs for some reason. I don't know if the truck swung or we tried to make it take off a little bit faster and that hurt it. But a good showing, going out there and leading laps and running with some really good cars. That's where this team deserves to be, and that's where they hopefully will stay, so we keep bringing fast cars to the racetrack like that, you never know when maybe one might fall our way.”
WHEN YOU GET I THINK THERE WAS A CAUTION AND THEN ANOTHER QUICK CAUTION THERE, BUT WHEN YOU'RE RESTARTING WITH TWO LAPS, DID YOU KIND OF KNOW IF WE DON'T GET OUT IN FRONT OF MARTIN, WE'RE PROBABLY NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO RUN HIM DOWN WITH JUST TWO LAPS LEFT? “Yeah, it's whoever is in the lead off of 2 pretty much, and unfortunately he was in the lead into 1, and we never even had a shot to race him through 2. I felt like if we could have ‑‑ our only shot was maybe be door‑to‑door with him through 1 and 2 and try to get him loose, and if we cleared him, you never know. He was pretty good. But it was really whoever got in front and got the lead at that point, and he was really fast in that little final stage. That was the deciding factor for sure.”
YOU STARTED OFF WITH SOME REALLY GOOD FINISHES THIS SEASON. THE LAST THREE WEEKS HAVE BEEN TERRIBLE. WHAT DOES THIS DO FOR YOU TODAY GOING INTO A COUPLE BIG WEEKS IN CHARLOTTE TO HAVE THIS FINISH? “Yes, it's really just nice to be back on track to be honest with you. The last three races have been really, really bad, and it's just an extra kind of slap to the face that we've had really fast cars in all those races we had troubles in, and we shouldn't have finished 35th. We should have had top 10s in all of them. So it was nice to show our muscle this weekend and prove that, like I said, this is where the 21 team deserves to be, so it's just nice to get back on track. Going to a few racetracks that are pretty good for us, Charlotte and then we'll keep moving on. It's nice to have a good run today. Yeah, of course we wanted to win, but at the same time, you look at the gains we made all weekend and really being fast all weekend, that puts us back to where we need to be for sure.”
WHEN THE RACE IS RED FLAGGED AND YOU SAW REPLAYS WHILE YOU WERE WAITING, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS, AND WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU'VE GOT TO REF IT UP AGAIN? “Yeah, you definitely wish the best for Aric. You never want to see a competitor, someone you're with every single weekend get hurt doing what they love. Hopefully he gets better and heals up in time. I don't know a ton of details about it right now. I know very little. But as a driver watching that, this sport, like Brad said, is dangerous. NASCAR has made a really good safety improvements over the past 10, 15 years, and they're always improving, so they'll look at that incident and see what they can do better to prevent that from happening ever again. You definitely don't want to see that as a driver, but you just hope that that certain person, in this case Aric, is going to heal up well, and hopefully he can be at the racetrack next week.”