AVONDALE, Ariz. - Ryan Blaney dominated Saturday’s Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, winning the first two stages, but a late-race caution and mixed strategies on pit road enabled William Byron to take the checkered flag.
Blaney finished second for the seventh time this season in the No. 22 Discount Tire Mustang despite leading a race-high 147-of-200 laps. The race came down to a caution and restart with 13 laps to go. After Brendan Gaughan hit the wall, the leaders came down pit road. Byron and Daniel Hemric, who was battling Ford’s Cole Custer for the final Championship 4 berth, got two tires from their respective crews while the others all took four. That put those two drivers on the front row for the restart and even though Blaney restarted fourth, he was never able to mount a charge to catch Byron.
Hemric’s decision for two tires made the final laps dramatic as he and Custer were separated by only one or two points as the running order continued to shuffle. In the end, Hemric and Christopher Bell were able to pass Custer on the final lap, giving Hemric the final transfer position by four points. Custer finished seventh while Ryan Reed, who needed a victory in order to advance, ended up 14th.
Even though Ford will not have anyone competing for the driver’s championship next Saturday in the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the No. 22 Discount Tire Mustang will be running for the owner’s championship. The other three eligible cars are the 20, 42 and 18. A championship by the 22 team would give Roger Penske his fourth owner’s title in the last five years.
FORD FINISHING RESULTS
2nd -- Ryan Blaney
7th -- Cole Custer
12th -- Casey Mears
14th -- Ryan Reed
COLE CUSTER (No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang) - Finished 7th
“I knew we needed to beat him, but I guess we needed a buffer in between us to beat him. We were all right all day. We just needed that much more really to compete with the top three guys. It sucks. The short tracks weren’t our strong suit all year, but the mile and a halves were really good for our Haas Automation Mustang team. We just had a lot of bad luck this round with the first two races. I know Daniel had some bad luck too, but if we didn’t have those two flats I think we would have transferred in there, so it sucks. I think we were really fast at Homestead when we went and tested, so we’ll try to win that race.”
YOU WERE 13 DOWN, SO HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE THAT CLOSE? “It’s good that we battled hard and we made up a lot of points and we did our jobs. I think we made the best of our day with what we had, but, overall, we’re still not in the Championship 4. But for a first-year team we came a long ways. From the first race here at Phoenix we were 10 times better, so next year we’ll go and get ‘em and I think we’ll be in it next year for sure.”
DID YOU FEEL THE CAUTION GAVE YOU A SECOND LIFE? “Yeah. I thought we had a chance there for sure at the end. We just needed a tick more the whole day and we just didn’t have enough there at the end. The lapped cars were in the way, so it is what it is. Short tracks weren’t our strong suit this year, but we made huge gains on them and we’ll move on to Homestead. We had a really good test down there, so we’ll have a shot at winning that.”
DID YOU KNOW THE SCENARIO AT THE END AND WHAT WAS GOING ON BEHIND YOU? “Not really. I was looking in my mirror, and I saw Daniel back there. I knew we probably needed some kind of buffer in between us, so we still needed somebody to pass him, but it is what it is I guess. I didn’t really know what was going on there I guess.”
RYAN REED – No. 16 Lilly Diabetes Ford Mustang – “It was a struggle all weekend. I’m proud of the team for all the effort all year long, but we needed to keep it close in Texas. We knew we probably wouldn’t have a shot to win here, but that was just a poor effort. We have to go back to the shop and figure out these flange-fit cars. I feel like we’re probably behind on those right now and we’ll go from there.”
RYAN BLANEY (No. 22 Discount Tire Ford Mustang) Finished 2nd – PRESS CONFERENCE
“It was a good race for us. Honestly, I thought we had a really good car and we got it better each run, except for the last one really. I thought our long-run speed was really good and we came in and got four and I was kind of free taking off each run, so we short-filled it a little bit. I thought that was gonna be enough to tighten us up and we just needed more, so then the 9 got out front and we couldn’t run him down. I was really, really loose so that stinks. We figured out a really good way to lose these things. We’ve finished second a lot this year in that car, so that’s unfortunate, especially when we had a great car today, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. That stinks, but, like I said, that car is in the owner’s championship so hopefully it can go and win that thing next week at Homestead. That would be great.”
YOU SEEMED TO STRUGGLE IN CUP PRACTICE TODAY. ANY HOPE IT WILL BE BETTER TOMORROW? “I didn’t think our Cup car was very good today, which was kind of a let down a little bit. It was a frustrating day on that side, but hopefully we can all work together. We have a meeting right after this, so we’ll see in spots where we can get better and compare some notes between all three of our cars and you never know, but that wasn’t where I needed to be today. Hopefully, this race maybe helps that a little bit, kind of seeing where the track went, so we’ll see, but we definitely need to be better on that side for tomorrow.”
DID THE CHANGES GO THE WRONG DIRECTION? “Honestly, we weren’t great in race trim all weekend. Even when we unloaded on Friday we weren’t great in race trim. Obviously, qualifying trim went well, but race trim we’ve just struggled a lot. We’ve been struggling to find speed and anything we’ve done hasn’t really changed the balance up very much, which is probably the most frustrating part. We change everything and I can’t really feel any difference and it’s still just slow. Hopefully, we can figure something outtonight and have something for them tomorrow to be at least halfway competitive.”