NASCAR: How a ‘problem’ may have saved Ryan Blaney

Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

Ryan Blaney walked us through all of his emotions from an unprecedented sequence to close out Sunday night’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney won last Sunday night’s NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race for $1 million at Texas Motor Speedway, but the finish of the event wasn’t without controversy, and that controversy presented itself in more ways than one.

The race itself was a dull one around the four-turn, 1.5-mile (2.414-kilometer) oval in Fort Worth, Texas, as many had anticipated. Passing was next to impossible on equal tire strategies, except during restarts, and there were yet again multiple instances of tire issues, leading to some nasty wrecks.

The All-Star format was also not one that many fans seemed too excited by. One aspect of that was a guaranteed caution during the final 50-lap stage, and even though that caution came in the form of an incident involving Petty GMS Motorsports’ Erik Jones, there were many who believed that NASCAR would force another “entertainment” caution to manufacture an “exciting” finish because of the overall dullness and disappointment of the event.

Blaney had taken the lead on lap 58, which was early in the third of four stages. As the laps wound down in the final stage, the gap between Blaney and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin was increasing, despite the fact that Hamlin was on newer tires in second place.

The driver of the #12 Ford took the white flag roughly three seconds ahead of the driver of the #11 Toyota, though unlike in a regular Cup Series race, this did not mean that the next flag would end the race. In the All-Star Race, the next flag needed to be a checkered flag.

The next flag was indeed the checkered flag, and Blaney crossed the line to take it before unfastening his window net as the race winner.

However, he was not officially the race winner at that time, as the caution had come out as he was just yards away from crossing the line.

Even though he did take the checkered flag, it wasn’t over.

The caution came out as a result of JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. making contact with the wall in turn two — nowhere near Blaney, and nowhere near to the extent of warranting a “caution”.

NASCAR later admitted that they were a bit trigger-happy when it came to bringing out the caution for an incident that never should have resulted in one, and that was obvious to anyone who saw it. It came across as a desperate attempt to manufacture drama to conclude an all-time awful event.

As a result, overtime was needed to finish the race.

Blaney was frustrated by the fact that what he — and everyone else — believed was a race win for $1 million basically didn’t count.

However, that frustration only lasted for “about five seconds”, and there was one simple reason why, he explained to Beyond the Flag.

“I was frustrated for about five seconds when I realized — when I was told — the race wasn’t over after we all thought it was,” he said. “My mind shifted from joy that we won, to frustration for about five seconds, to then trying to solve a problem.”

The problem he had was with his window net. He needed to reattach it, or at least position it acceptably, in order to avoid being black flagged.

“[Now I’m] trying to solve my window net problem, of, ‘Okay, how am I going to get this thing back up and latched properly from inside the car – and then finish the race?’”

But in a way, it was almost a blessing in disguise.

While it could have been an additional source of frustration, it took his mind off of the fact that he had effectively just been robbed of a $1 million victory, lessening the pressure of the ensuing restart and preventing him from being carried away by “what might have been” before the upcoming two-lap sprint.

In hindsight, it might well have saved him from losing that $1 million.

“I think having that window net issue kind of diverted my mind from frustration to, alright, problem-solving time, let’s try to focus on this,” he admitted. “Because that’s all I cared about. My only care in the world was trying to get that dang window net up! So I think that kind of helped my mentality from not being mad to kind of really focusing on a task of like, that’s my goal.”

Fortunately for him, NASCAR did deem it acceptable, and he was not black flagged. He led the field to the green flag on the ensuing restart with two laps to go, though some argued that he should have been black flagged and forced to completely fix it, accusing NASCAR of basically ignoring their own rule book on safety to make up for a ridiculous decision to go yellow to begin with.

But when it was determined that he was good to go, Blaney’s mentality switched back to race mode.

“And then I had to switch it up to, alright, it’s back up now, now I gotta do this restart and figure out how we can win this race,” he continued. “It was a lot more nerve wracking than it needed to be, but we were able to solve that problem and hold everybody off.”

He held on to win the race, leading to a collective sigh of relief from NASCAR fans everywhere. Blaney was among those who felt more relief than excitement at first.

“Relief! Super pumped the first time, but then we had to redo it again, and I wasn’t as excited,” he admitted. “Right as I crossed the finish line, I was like, ‘Whew!’, it was a relief, good thing we won that race.”

However, that normal race-winning excitement did eventually kick in.

“But as you get more excited, you do the frontstretch interview, and getting to victory lane to see all your guys, you get excited again,” he explained. “Definitely a lot of range of emotions, something I probably don’t ever want to do again, those kinds of emotions, in that short a time, but luckily it all worked out the way it should’ve with everything that kind of transpired. But a lot of relief, that’s for sure, and then it was quickly followed up with joy.”

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But given that he had to win the race “twice”, there is one thing…

“Too bad I don’t get double the money!”