19-year-old Ryan Blaney withstood multiple late restarts to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ Kentucky 300 tonight at Kentucky, earning his first career NNS triumph by two seconds over another member of NASCAR’s next generation, Austin Dillon.
A string of incidents within the final 40 laps marred the latter stages of the race, but Blaney was able to hold on to the point despite some tense moments. On the next-to-last restart with 14 laps to go, Blaney was side-by-side with Sam Hornish Jr., when the former Indianapolis 500 winner got loose on Blaney’s inside and nearly collected him. Blaney managed to scoot by, while Hornish made a tremendous save and kept going.
Shortly after that, Parker Kligerman was bumped into the tri-oval wall to set up a final restart with nine laps to go – with Blaney and Dillon leading the field down to the green. But Blaney once again stood strong and would go on to not only secure his own inaugural NNS win, but also the 10th win of the year for Penske Racing’s No. 22 NNS squad.
“It’s really tough to hold onto the lead, especially on the outside,” Blaney told ESPN in Victory Lane. “You really have to keep the guy pinned down on the inside, and there were a couple of really hairy situations on the restarts.
“But everyone here at Penske Racing has done an awesome job of giving me a great Discount Tire Ford…I’m really fortunate to drive for these guys, and I’m the fourth different driver to win in this car. That’s very cool. It just shows how good this team is, and I really hope we can get that owner’s championship.”
The Penske NNS No. 22 has earned five checkered flags this year with Brad Keselowski, two apiece with Joey Logano and A.J. Allmendinger, and now one with Ryan, who is the son of current Sprint Cup driver Dave Blaney.
Ryan’s crew chief, Jeremy Bullins, praised the youngster for his performance.
“…I’ve never been more proud of a win,” Bullins said. “That kid’s something else. He did a great job, this Mustang was flawless all night. The guys on pit road did an awesome job and I can’t say enough about the job [Ryan] did.”
Dillon’s second-place finish enabled him to make up some ground in the NNS championship on Hornish, who was able to recover and finish fourth behind third-place driver Matt Crafton. Hornish’s lead is now down to 15 points over Dillon.
Alex Bowman rounded out the Top 5 tonight in the Bluegrass State.
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.