It wasn’t a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitor that the NASCAR Nationwide Series field had to worry about at Kentucky Speedway. Instead, it was a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standout in Ryan Blaney who stole the show and won Saturday night’s Kentucky 300.
Blaney’s first career Nationwide Series win came in his 15th career start and just second start of 2013. Blaney’s triumph in the No. 22 Discount Tire Ford Mustang marked Penske Racing’s 10th win of the year with the No. 22 with four different drivers. A.J. Allmendinger, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski collectively made up for nine of those victories.
The win didn’t come easy for Blaney, a development driver for Penske Racing. Blaney was nearly collected by teammate and current points leader Sam Hornish Jr. on a restart with 15 Laps to go. As Hornish attempted to inherit the lead from Blaney, Hornish’s Ford broke loose on the bottom of the track and immediately walked up the race track, nearly colliding with Blaney. While Hornish faded, Blaney kept his foot on the gas and kept Austin Dillon in his rearview mirror until the caution flag waved a lap later when Parker Kligerman pounded the frontstretch wall after contact with Cole Whitt.
In the early stages of the Kentucky 300, Hornish appeared to have the car to beat in his No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts Ford Mustang and even fended off challenges from the RCR duo of Dillon and Brian Scott. But Jeremy Bullins, Blaney’s crew chief, kept making adjustments to his rookie’s blue oval, which allowed the High Point, N.C., native to methodically work his way to the front and overtake Dillon for the lead on Lap 101, just past halfway.
Blaney would continue to show the way until Harrison Rhodes brought out the caution for dropping fluid on the race track on Lap 107. The yellow sent the leaders to pit road, where Elliott Sadler opted for a different pit strategy from his competitors and assumed the race lead.
Blaney, the son of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dave Blaney, would rocket by Sadler immediately after the restart and hold the point, until final pit stops occurred with 38 Laps to go following a caution when Brad Sweet crashed on the backstretch. Quick work by the Penske Racing organization allowed the 19 year old to remain first for the series of late-race restarts.
On the final restart of the night, Dillon in the No. 3 AdvoCare Chevrolet Camaro attempted to make the pass on Blaney entering Turn 1, but Blaney powered the outside line and pulled ahead from Dillon and the rest of the field over the final nine Laps to net Ford’s 12th win in 27 races.
“Yeah, we had a great car all night,” said a relatively calm, but jubilant Blaney as he debriefed with reporters. “We kept working on it throughout the race, just little tweaks here and there. We were really strong to start out the race and just got better and better as the runs went on. It was really tough the last few restarts to really know what was going to happen. The way the restart rule is now, you never know how big of a push someone can get. I was a little worried being on the outside, but we had a great car to be able get through one and two good and be able to clear them by three and four.”
He added, “I’ve said it before, it really speaks numbers how good this team (really) is. To be able to win with four different drivers. That just shows how strong this 22 group is and how strong Penske Racing is as a whole. I want to thank everyone, who made this opportunity possible.”
Dillon, Hornish’s rival for the Nationwide championship finished second, ahead of Richard Childress Racing teammate Matt Crafton in third. Hornish rebounded for fourth, while Alex Bowman in the RAB Racing entry posted his first top-five run since the season-opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in February.
Dillon, the grandson of Richard Childress, failed to record his fourth series victory at the 1.5-mile, but did however notch his 10th top-five of 2013 and capitalized on his sixth place run at Kentucky in June.
“We knew we would be good coming here, it’s one of our better tracks and I’m just thankful we had a good run tonight,” said Dillon, still winless in his sophomore season. “It was a solid run, there was just one car better. We needed something. Just a little bit more, we were too tight all night on exit and we tried to get it out of the car and (we) just couldn’t. That 22 has been very tough all year long, no matter who’s gotten in it. They’ve won with four different drivers this year. That’s pretty impressive.”
When asked about his deficit to Hornish, which now stands at 15 points with less than two months of racing remaining, Dillon remained highly optimistic.
“Just let it (points) come to us,” Dillon said. “We’re going to stay here and keep running hard every week. We have to run top-five from here on out.”
Crafton, the current NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points leader, tied his best career finish (third) in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition. Ironically, the driver of the No. 33 Rheem / Menards Chevrolet Camaro also finished third in the triple-header weekend at the Sparta, Kentucky-based track in June. “We were tight, tight, tight, for most of the race until the last stop. I then got loose, but went back to tight, but I can’t thank Menards, Rheem and RCR for the opportunity. A good night.”
Drew Herring taking the reins for Kyle Busch this weekend finished sixth, flanked by Brian Vickers, Jeb Burton in his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut, Cole Whitt driving for Tri-Star Motorsports and Michael Annett comprised the remainder of the top-10.
While Blaney has led only 65 Laps in his full-time campaign on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series tour, he led a race high 96 laps tonight. Blaney last competed on the circuit in June at Iowa Speedway, where he finished ninth after starting sixth.
In the race for the owner’s championship, Roger Penske (No. 22) leads J.D. Gibbs (No. 54) by 23 markers.