Defending winner Blaney captures Pocono pole
LONG POND — Ryan Blaney tagged along with his dad to the track and raced scooters in what the kids called “mini-Pocono.”
All grown up, he’s figured out the real deal pretty well.
Blaney was tops again at the site of his lone NASCAR Cup victory, turning a lap of 176.897 mph to win the pole Friday at Pocono Raceway.
He won his first career Cup race in the June 2017 race driving for Wood Brothers Racing, then partied all night with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Darrell Wallace Jr., and a few other tight NASCAR running buddies.
Blaney might want to put the beer back on ice.
Blaney’s fourth career pole puts him in position to repeat and earn an automatic spot in NASCAR’s playoffs. He gave the famed Wood brothers their 99th career win last season, a ride strengthened by an alliance with Team Penske. Roger Penske wanted the 24-year-old budding star in his NASCAR stable and put him in the No. 12 Ford this season.
Blaney, son of former NASCAR driver Dave Blaney, grandson of dirt track star Lou Blaney, has led 418 laps this season and is 11th in the points standings.
“It is always nice to come back to a place you have had success at and won at,” he said. “It gives you confidence as a driver and as a whole team, everyone’s confidence is up. Obviously, you want to repeat that. You want to win every week but when you come back to a place where you have had success, that definitely is nice.”
Kevin Harvick, who leads the series with five wins, joins Blaney on the front row. Jamie McMurray, Martin Truex Jr., and Kyle Busch complete the top five.
Harvick is a whopping 0 for 34 at Pocono and stands with Kentucky as the only active tracks where he’s failed to win a Cup race. He’s getting closer to the checkered — Harvick was runner-up in both 2017 Pocono races.
He expected to race for the win again on Sunday.
“These guys have given me fast race cars every week,” Harvick said.
Harvick and Busch have won nine of 13 Cup races this season and each have earned enough playoff points that they’re already stout favorites to race for the championship in the season finale at Homestead.
The one thing Harvick and Busch haven’t done this season? Race each other hard down the stretch for either of their victories. The 18 vs. 4 battle for the victory has yet to truly materialize.
Consider, Harvick was 40th last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway as Busch celebrated his fourth win of the season.
“You haven’t had exciting one, two, three guys mixing it up back-and-forth for the lead, stuff like that,” Busch said. “I’m not sure why, just kind of circumstances, the way it’s working out right now.”
Harvick sensed it was only a matter of time until the two top drivers this season had a 1-2 finish.
“It is kind of weird that we really haven’t mixed it up for an entire race,” he said.