Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Under the Spotlight: Blaney Nearly Wins First Race By Default

Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR
The infamous jet dryer that delayed the last 40 laps of the 54th running of the Daytona 500 almost won Dave Blaney his first victory in 398 races, but ultimately led to a 15th-place finish and landed him the fifth highest topic on Twitter worldwide.

The incident involving Juan Pablo Montoya happened around Lap 158. Montoya was attempting to catch up with the pack while under caution, but lost control of his car and plowed into the jet dryer that was on the track at the time.

The accident resulted in a two-hour red flag, for a race that had already been postponed to Monday due to rain for the first time in the history of the season-opener. The drivers climbed out of their vehicles to investigate the incident and according to Dale Earnhardt Jr., ended up discussing everything except racing.

Several drivers were huddled around Blaney, who was sitting in the best position possible in the event that the race were to be called off if the track was unable to be repaired or if the weather took a turn for the worst. The driver of the No. 36 Ollie's Bargain Outlet Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing (TBR) started Monday night’s race from 24th, a very respectable position for an underfunded team.

Since entering the Sprint Cup Series full-time in 2000, Blaney has earned two poles, four top fives and 28 top 10s with 105 DNFs. Of all the drivers to be up front in the season-opener, Blaney was probably one of the most unlikely candidates.

After a caution on just the second lap of the race, one for a crash involving five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Blaney’s crew chief Ryan Pemberton made the call for Blaney to stay out and restart the race in 20th.

After several pit stops, including one to repair a popped tire which caused damage to the front fender, Blaney stayed toward the back of the pack until after the midway point of the race and once again made his way toward the front, ultimately ending up in 15th.

“That was our goal; to get as many points as we could in case something happens with qualifying in the next few weeks,” said Blaney following the lengthy season-opener. “I’m just glad we had the finish we had and got a lot of good exposure for our team and Ollie’s during the broadcast,” he said.

In the October 2011 race at Talladega, Blaney earned TBR their best finish of third. In the spring event at that same track, the driver led 21 laps.

Next week, Blaney will race in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, alongside teammate David Reutimann, who will make his TBR debut driving the No. 10 Chevrolet.

Other unexpected performances in the Daytona 500 include: Jeff Burton who finished fifth after starting ninth; Joey Logano who finished ninth in his best Daytona 500 performance to date; Marcos Ambrose who finished 13th even after wrecking and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who, after managing to avoid all wrecks, finished 20th, one position ahead of where he started.

Earnhardt Jr. and his teammate Kasey Kahne were the only two Hendrick drivers left on the track for much of the race after Johnson and Jeff Gordon were both involved in earlier incidents. Earnhardt Jr. had a very successful Daytona 500, spending much of the race up in front, managing to avoid all of the chaos and pulling out a second-place finish in the last possible seconds of the race.

With much of the focus on the eventful Sprint Cup Series season-opener, it’s easy to overlook the results from the other events throughout Daytona Speedweeks. John King, driving for Red Horse Racing in his debut season, won Friday’s Camping World Truck Series race. King, who is currently ranked first in the point standings, has just two career wins – both in late models.

Saturday’s Nationwide Series trophy was taken home by James Buescher who ended up first despite running in 11th in Turn 4 of the final lap – luckily for him, all of the drivers in front of him wrecked, clearing the way to his first career victory to add to a record of only two top fives and six top-10 finishes.

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