Stage points turned out to be the silver lining for Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 Quick Lane team in a Talladega race that didn’t end as they hoped it might.
The 18 points earned by Blaney in the early stages of Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway added a very positive element to an otherwise disappointing day to the race for Blaney and the Quick Lane team.
After strong finishes in the two 55-lap stages, Blaney positioned himself to challenge for the win as the laps wound down. He narrowly avoided trouble on several occasions before being swept up in one of the late multi-car crashes that left just 14 drivers running at the finish.
Blaney, who was eliminated in a Lap 177 crash, was credited with the 18th finishing position, but when his stage points were added in he actually moved up four spots in the playoff standings.
He entered the 500 in 11th place but left in seventh place, two points ahead of eighth-place Jimmie Johnson and nine ahead of ninth-place Kyle Busch.
The Round of 12 ends next weekend at Kansas Speedway, which has been one of the better tracks for the No. 21 team.
For much of Sunday’s race, Blaney and his fellow Ford drivers were among the fastest on the track.
The Ford teams worked together in Stage One to set up a strong finish. The drivers all headed to pit road for fuel under the green flag on Lap 13, and that led to Ford drivers sweeping the top four spots with Blaney earning eight points for a third-place finish.
He came back and dominated the second stage, leading the final 19 laps of that 55-lap segment to earn an addition 10 stage points plus one playoff point.
Blaney was poised to pad his points total even more before the crash that took him out of the race.
A disappointed Blaney said there was nothing he could have done to escape damage in the five-car crash that damaged his Fusion to badly to continue on.
“We were up by the wall and somebody probably got turned and I got in it,” he said. “I didn’t think there were enough cars to wreck that much anymore, but we happened to find it, and a good day kind of down the drain.”
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said Sunday’s race proves something he’s long believed about restrictor-plate racing on the giant Alabama track.
“Talladega can be your best friend, but it can turn into your worst enemy in a second,” he said.
“But I was really proud of the way Ryan and the Quick Lane team performed today.
“We came into the race wanting to earn stage points and then try to finish the race as high as we could.”
He said that will be the strategy again next week at Kansas Speedway.
“We ran well there earlier this year, so we’ll go into the race with the same goals – earning stage points and finishing as high as possible.”
Wood also said he was proud of Talladega’s track president Grant Lynch and his staff for hosting a grand event.
“The stands were full, and seeing so many people there made it feel like the old Talladega,” Wood said.
Among those who made the trip to Talladega for the Alabama 500 were Edsel Ford and Brett Wheatley from Ford Motor Company.
“I hope they enjoyed it,” Wood said. “One of our Ford teammates, Brad Keselowski from Team Penske, won the race, and Ryan and the Quick Lane team were at their best today.
“I know Ryan is disappointed that he wasn’t able to finish the race, but he did a great job and missed a lot of wrecks before the one that finally ended his day.”