The 21-year-old son of sprint car legend, NASCAR veteran, and 2009 LASTCAR Cup Champion Dave Blaney has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks. In 2011, he won his lone K&N Pro Series West start at Phoenix, then in 2012 signed with Brad Keselowski’s Camping World Truck Series team, which he’s since carried to four wins and a 2nd-place showing in the 2014 point standings. In 2012, he finished 7th in his XFINITY Series debut at Richmond driving for Tommy Baldwin, Jr., and he soon found himself sharing a fleet Penske Racing ride with Keselowski and Joey Logano. Blaney’s first of three XFINITY victories came at Kentucky in 2013, and he followed this by a 27th-place run in his Cup debut for Penske at Kansas in 2014.
This year, Blaney’s triple-duty schedule was skewed toward more Cup and XFINITY Series starts with a handful in Trucks. His Cup ride for 2015 was with the Wood Brothers, whose iconic #21 was vacated by Trevor Bayne the previous season. The Woods’ venerable single-car operation has become a satellite Penske team, its cars prepared alongside those of Keselowski and Logano, and there are indications - but as yet nothing confirmed - that he will run full-time for Penske in the near future. In the meantime, Blaney’s second season in Cup would remain on a part-time basis.
This past May, the Talladega track was the scene of Blaney’s career-best Cup finish when he finished 4th after starting 3rd, following Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Paul Menard across the finish line. However, other than that finish and a 7th last week at Kansas, Blaney’s 2015 Cup schedule has been marred by several frustrations. Coming into Sunday’s race, he’d lost engines in three of his 14 starts and missed another three when rain washed out qualifying, eliminating his ride from the field based on a lesser number of race attempts.
Heavy cloud cover moved in through the weekend, but this time the rain stayed away. On Friday’s opening session, he put up the 20th-fastest time and was 2nd of the 30 drivers in Happy Hour behind Keselowski. He made it through the first round of qualifying and settled for 9th in the race for the pole, putting up a lap of 192.509 mph. This time, the two drivers missing the race were two team cars debuting new sponsors: the #23 Overture Toyota of rookie Jeb Burton - his eighth of 2015 - and Michael Annett, whose #46 PJ Fresh / Flying J Chevrolet missed its first race since Atlanta in February. While in Atlanta, Annett secured a ride from Circle Sport in the #33, this time Travis Kvapil remained in the ride and would roll off 42nd on Sunday.
Starting 43rd on Sunday was Chase contender Martin Truex, Jr., whose #78 Furniture Row / Visser Protection Chevrolet had its time disallowed when he went below the line during his lap in the first session. Joining him in the rear were fellow Chevrolet drivers Danica Patrick, Tony Stewart, and Justin Allgaier, whose cars were repaired before the race. Ryan Newman, 10th in points entering the event, also conceded his 18th starting spot to drop to the back. But before a single lap was completed, 43rd went J.J. Yeley, whose #26 Adirondack Tree Surgeons Toyota spent the opening three laps on pit road. On Lap 3, Timmy Hill pulled the #62 Royal Teak Collection Ford behind the wall, dropping him back in his first Cup start since Dover earlier this month. Yeley’s return on Lap 4 dropped Hill to last on Lap 6, but Hill then came back out on Lap 9, 7 circuits behind the leaders. At this point, Hill and Yeley were running by themselves, just a few seconds ahead of the leaders.
On Lap 18, the leaders caught Hill entering Turn 1, and he guided the #62 safely up the track to let the traffic pass three-wide below him. Yeley was caught a few laps later, and the two remained on-track, albeit at a slower pace than many of the frontrunners. As the race remained under green, the two drivers held the final two spots until nearly the one-half mark.
Coming off Turn 2 on Lap 86, Blaney’s #21 slowed suddenly in the high lane, forcing the leaders to take another evasive maneuver to avoid him. He made it safely to pit road without drawing a caution, but the crew quickly discovered an engine problem that ended their day for a fourth time in 2015. Blaney fell to 43rd on Lap 94, lifting both Yeley and Hill.
Hill ended up 41st, his Ford suffering an electrical issue that made his car slow down the backstretch in the race’s closing stages. Yeley ended up one spot outside the Bottom Five in 38th, one spot ahead of Jamie McMurray, whose #1 Cessna Pink Chevrolet drew the second caution of the day when the engine let go while racing the leaders inside the final 5 laps. 40th went to Matt DiBenedetto, whose #83 Dustless Blasting Toyota dropped to 42nd on Lap 97 with mechanical issues of his own, but returned to the track before Lap 120 to come home 19 circuits back. Behind Hill in 42nd was Justin Allgaier, whose struggles in practice and qualifying were capped by an engine failure on his #51 Auto Owners Insurance Chevrolet that ended the race’s opening green-flag run of 132 laps.
*This is the first last-place finish for the #21 in a Cup race at Talladega since May 5, 2013, when Trevor Bayne’s own turn in the Motorcraft / Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford ended due to engine issues after 22 laps of the Aaron’s 499.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #21-Ryan Blaney / 84 laps / engine
42) #51-Justin Allgaier / 130 laps / engine
41) #62-Timmy Hill / 168 laps / electrical
40) #83-Matt DiBenedetto / 177 laps / running
39) #1-Jamie McMurray / 182 laps / engine
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Landon Cassill (4)
2nd) Alex Bowman (3)
3rd) Aric Almirola, Michael Annett, Kasey Kahne, J.J. Yeley (2)
4th) Justin Allgaier, A.J. Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne, Ryan Blaney, Jeb Burton, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Gase, David Gilliland, Timmy Hill, Sam Hornish, Jr., Bobby Labonte, Brian Scott, Tony Stewart, Cole Whitt, Josh Wise (1)
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hillman Smith Motorsports (4)
2nd) BK Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing (3)
3rd) Go FAS Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Phil Parsons Racing / Premium Motorsports (2)
4th) Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Childress Racing / Circle Sport, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Wood Brothers Racing (1)
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (18)
2nd) Ford (10)
3rd) Toyota (4)