Ryan Blaney’s first NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) victory marked the second this season for the Penske Racing No. 22 Ford at Kentucky Speedway.
The 19-year-old became the second-youngest NNS 300-mile race winner in track history after leading 96 of 200 laps, including the final 89, surviving four caution restarts during the closing 50 laps. The race saw nine caution periods consume 44 laps of action.
“I’m kind of speechless right now, but it’s just awesome to be able to do this. I wish my dad was here, but I’ve got the rest of my family here, so it’s pretty cool,” Blaney said.
Blaney, whose NASCAR racing veteran father Dave was in Louden, N.H. preparing fortomorrow’s Sprint Cup Series event, gained the race lead as positions cycled under caution on Lap 112.
He said his car’s performance on restarts made the difference tonight.
“It’s tough. It’s really tough to hold on to the lead, even if you’re on the outside (line). You really have to keep the guy pinned down there, and there were a couple hairy situations on the restarts, but everyone here at Penske Racing has done an awesome job giving me this great Discount Tire Ford. We’re the fourth different driver to win in this car. That’s really cool, and just goes to show how good this team is,” Blaney said of a team which has earned 10 NNS victories this season.
Austin Dillon, who led 32 laps in the middle of the race before scoring his third top-five and fourth top-10 finish in four starts in the Bluegrass State, took second after guiding his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing ride beneath the checkered flag 2.018 seconds behind Blaney’s machine.
Dillon described his attempts to overtake Blaney on the late-race restarts.
“I tried to get through there as clean as I could, but his car was just really good. They’ve been great all year. It’s been fun racing against them, and it’s tough to beat them.
“But, we’re working hard, and getting closer and closer and I think we’re going to knock one down soon for sure if we run like that.
“The restarts were good. Everything was good—there was just one car better than us,” Dillon said.
Matt Crafton captured third place and was followed by Sam Hornish Jr. and Alex Bowman in the race top five.
Crafton, who made his NNS debut with a third-place finish in the June 28 NNS Kentucky event, now owns six top-five and 11 top-10 career NASCAR finishes at the track. He’s charted four top-five and 10 top-10 finishes through 15 NCWTS starts here.
Hornish Jr., continued on a path toward this season’s series championship by delivering his second top-five and fourth top-10 Kentucky NNS finish through as many starts. He led the opening 65 laps of the race and will enter the Sept. 28 race at Dover International Speedway holding a 15-point championship advantage on the second-place contender Dillon after picking up his third top-five and fourth top-10 finish in the past four-race stretch of the season.
“It was a lot wilder than what we wanted it to be. We had been fighting a tight race car from about the one-third point of the race on. I knew in order to have a chance to beat the 22 (Ryan Blaney) that I was going to have to get a good run through Turn 1 and 2.
“The car had been pushing real bad before that and I went in there and it just turned like it never had any kind of issue turning that time and just kicked the back end around and then I tried to keep my foot into it.
“Eventually it clipped the apron a little bit there, it really started coming along. It was a big moment but we got out of it and salvaged a decent night. The 22 car (Ryan Blaney) goes to Victory Lane so pretty good day all-in-all.”
Bowman picked up his first top-five and second straight top-10 Kentucky NNS finish in his third series start at the track.