LONG POND, Pa. – Ryan Blaney couldn’t talk to his crew most of the day Sunday at Pocono Raceway, but that didn’t stop him from making the most of a golden opportunity.
Blaney, who lost radio communication with his team early in the race, made the most of a late-race restart to get by race-long leader Kyle Busch and then held off a game Kevin Harvick to score his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory during the Axalta presents the Pocono 400.
By doing so, Blaney returned Wood Brothers Racing to victory lane for the first time since the 2011 Daytona 500.
Busch was the dominant car throughout Sunday’s race, leading a race-high 100 laps, but an ill timed caution with 19 laps left ruined his chances of victory. Busch had a comfortable lead after a round of green flag pit stops when Kasey Kahne’s car slammed the turn one wall, forcing NASCAR to call for the caution flag.
Stuck between proverbial a rock and a hard place, Busch opted not to pit under the caution period. Nearly all the other lead lap cars decided to come down pit road with the exception of Brad Keselowski, who had made his planned final stop just a lap before Kahne’s crash.
Of the cars that pitted Erik Jones came off pit road first after taking just two tires, with Blaney coming off second with four tires. The pair would line up third and fourth for the restart behind Busch and Keselowski.
The race resumed with 13 laps left and Busch fired off into the lead as Blaney emerged in second through the first turn as Keselowski slipped and dropped a few positions, allowing Harvick to make his way to third.
At the front, Blaney began to quickly gain on Busch and with 11 laps left Blaney was right on Busch’s bumper and looking for a way by. Coming to 10 laps to go Blaney went low on the frontstretch and Busch blocked him all the way down to the inside wall.
Blaney followed Busch through turn one and exiting the turn Blaney got a run to Busch’s inside. The pair raced down the Long Pond Straightaway, with Busch pushing Blaney all the way down to the apron as they fought for the lead. Behind them Kevin Harvick, who restarted sixth, was quickly making up ground in third.
Blaney stayed the course on the inside of Busch, racing side-by-side between turns two and three before finally clearing Busch at the exit of turn three to take the lead for the first time all day.