DARLINGTON, S.C. – Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing team were fortunate to finish 31stin the Bojangles’ Southern 500 tonight at Darlington Raceway.
Blaney and the Wood Brothers’ iconic No. 21 battled problem after problem, one that threatened to end the night early.
“This was a first and it figures it happens in the longest race,” said Blaney when asked if he’s ever been in a race where so many things went wrong. “It was the most-frustrating race.”
First, he hit the wall during the fourth lap, which put him behind two laps early.
“That was a huge mistake on my part,” Blaney said. “I don't know what I was doing. I got tight behind a car and I was kind of off set and I couldn't see the wall and I just should have been smarter and lifted.”
Skillful driving and smart pit strategy put the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford back on the lead lap 125 laps into the 367-lap race.
“We clawed back from two laps down to get back on the lead lap, which was great,” the driver said. “They (the pit crew) did a good job. Then we lost a cylinder or something going on in the engine."
At about lap 143, Blaney said he felt something change in the engine and smelled oil. A careful inspection under the hood during a long pit stop didn’t help with the diagnosis and the decision was made to ride it out and see how long it lasted. It lasted the rest of the race.
"I was surprised it lasted,” Blaney said. “I don't know what was wrong with it. It was just down. That stunk.”
Still, the team finished Stage 2 of the Southern 500 in 23rd place, on the lead lap. The No. 21 Fusion was scored in 17th after 200 laps but that wasn’t the end of the trouble for Blaney and company. There was a loose right rear tire. Then a flat tire from a freak pit accident.
“Actually our car wasn't that bad with the down motor,” Blaney said. “Then we had a flat when a lug nut hit the valve stem loose and cut the right rear going into (turn) one. It was just piling on. It sucks those things happen."
After that it was survival mode for the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing team and a 31st-place finish.
Blaney currently sits ninth in the NASCAR Playoff standings with his June Pocono win and eight playoff points. He is 12th in the overall driver standings, 371 points behind leader Martin Truex, Jr.
The Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing team heads to Richmond Raceway for the final race of the regular season; the Federated Auto Parts 400 on Saturday, Sept. 9, at 7:30 p.m.