NASCAR Trucks: Ryan Blaney now in Matt Crafton’s rear view mirror

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A day of survival for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship contenders at Talladega ended on somewhat of a down note for Ryan Blaney.

Blaney took the green-white-checkered restart for the Fred’s 250 in second place alongside Timothy Peters. But Peters, the eventual race winner, and the inside lane ultimately won out, and Blaney was forced to settle for a fifth-place finish.

However, it was enough to move him to second place in the standings with four races to go. Blaney also cut his points deficit behind championship leader Matt Crafton to 17 points.

“I thought we were going to have a great shot at the win,” Blaney told Fox Sports about his G-W-C efforts. “Coming off of [Turn] 2 with Erik Jones pushing me there, I was planning on making my move with him, just try to side-draft him the right amount at the right spot.

“I knew the third lane was gonna come eventually, but I didn’t think they were gonna go that early. And right when they got outside of the 51 [Jones], they sucked him right off of me and stopped us.

“If I would’ve pulled up there, we would’ve got wrecked, they were coming so fast. Luckily, they all got jumbled up four-wide off of [Turn] 4, and we were able to go from maybe 11th up to fifth within a thousand yards.”

Despite the near-miss, Blaney was able to make the best of a difficult day. He led the majority of the first half before he was penalized for speeding on pit road following a green flag stop at Lap 45 of 94.

Blaney was then lapped by the leaders after serving his drive-through penalty, but caught a break when a slowing Milka Duno on pit road brought out a caution with Blaney in position for the free pass. From there, Blaney manuevered back into the lead pack by the time the race hit 20 laps to go.

In the end, he didn’t get his ideal result, but Blaney knows that drives like he had on Saturday could prove critical as the championship heads for its climax next month at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“This is a long five-race stretch to Homestead here, and I told our guys, ‘If we have weeks like this, we’re gonna be right there at Homestead,” he said.

Nonetheless, Crafton remains in control of the proceedings for the time being despite having his own troubles on Saturday – hitting Bryan Silas early on pit road and taking damage, then being penalized for tandem drafting with around 40 laps left.

Crafton was actually in contention for a Top-5 spot on the final lap of the race but was shuffled to the outside in the last run through the tri-oval to the checkered flag. He finished 14th, but suffered just a two-point loss on his championship lead from where it was going into today.

As for Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, he joined Blaney in moving up in the points as well. He finished ninth today following a frenetic G-W-C, but pulled within 28 points of Crafton in third spot. Johnny Sauter’s early exit from today’s race has now stuck him 36 points back in fourth.