Busch, the race leader at the time, stayed out on the race’s final caution flag while most everyone else — including Blaney — headed to pit road for fresh tires. That proved problematic, as Busch sprinted away after the ensuing restart but was slowly reeled in by Blaney.
As Blaney had a faster car, Busch did everything he could to keep Blaney from passing him in turns 1 and 2 with 10 laps to go. It all proved futile in turn 3, as Blaney accelerated past Busch off the corner and took the lead with nine laps to go.
Harvick, who pulled into second because of the battle, tailed Blaney the rest of the way. But he couldn’t get past.
“Kyle stayed out and he was on a little bit older tires and it looked like he was getting pretty tight, especially off of [turn 1] and that’s where new tires really seemed to come alive because you could hold the line and get runs on him, downshift and get next to him,” Blaney said. “I had a big run on him off of three and he did a good job blocking, and we were able to get under him, but then I had to hold the 4 off. He was super-fast. I can’t thank Kevin enough for racing me clean. That was really cool of him, but it was definitely hectic.”
Blaney is the 10th different winner in the first 14 races of the 2017 season. That also means he’s the 10th different driver to clinch a berth in NASCAR’s playoffs. Sixteen drivers qualify for the playoffs, and with 12 races to go there’s now a distinct chance the playoff field will be completely filled with winners. Drivers like Harvick, Busch, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and others haven’t yet won a race.
The win is also the first win for the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 car since Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500. The No. 21 is the fifth-winningest number in NASCAR, behind the No. 43, No. 11, No. 3 and No. 24.
Blaney had come close to winning before in 2017. He had the fastest car in the first parts of the race at Texas before an ill-advised pit call put him out of the lead. And he battled with Martin Truex Jr. at Kansas before Truex passed him and went on to take the win.
But while Blaney has had fast cars so far this season, he’s also had some wicked luck. He sustained damage to his car last week when he hit Matt Kenseth entering pit road. And then an axle broke on his car. Sunday, he had a loose wheel during the first stage after his first pit stop. But the speed in the car was more than enough to make up for the early setback.
– – – – – – –