The official finish of Sunday’s 400-lapper at Richmond International Raceway doesn’t reflect it, but the driver and crew of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion showed that they can bounce back from a dismal mid-race performance and contend for a top-five finish at the end.
Ryan Blaney started from the outside pole in the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion but soon found himself running outside the top 15, and with radio problems that limited his communication with his crew chief and spotter.
But crew chief Jeremy Bullins and his fellow team leaders on the pit box stayed in the game, so to speak, and kept adjusting the chassis of the No. 21 on every pit stop. Bullins figured correctly on strategy calls including short-pitting with a little under 100 laps left to run. And each time Blaney drove to pit road, his over-the-wall crew either maintained his position in the running order or gained him spots, as many as three on one occasion.
With a little more than 50 laps remaining, Blaney, who had unlapped himself following his short-pitting stop, rejoined the top 15. When the caution flag flew with 34 laps to go, he was 11th.
On the ensuing restart, Blaney moved into eighth place and was on pace to score a top-five finish. But his race ended soon after as a three-wide battle for position between him, Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott, ended with Busch, in the middle, sliding up into Blaney on the outside and cutting his left-rear tire.
Blaney attempted to save his spinning car, but he slid into the wall, and the damage was too much to continue and he ended up with a 36th-place finish. That dropped him from 10th in the championship standings to 12th heading into next Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.
The team’s late-race comeback, despite the crash that ended it, was encouraging to team co-owner Eddie Wood, especially given the team’s recent struggles at Richmond.
“We were outside the top 15 for a good bit of the race,” Wood said. “But Jeremy and the crew kept adjusting on the car, and got it going there at the end.
“It’s just a shame that we weren’t able to finish it off.”
Wood said that while he would have liked to have seen the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion in the top five at the finish, he was pleased to see two of his fellow Ford teammates sweep the top-two positions.
“Congratulations to Joey Logano from Team Penske on winning in his 300th Cup start and to his teammate Brad Keselowski for a strong run and a second-place finish,” Wood said. “This puts another Ford driver in the mix for the playoffs, and that’s pretty important in our world.”