Ryan Blaney has been in these positions before. It’s just that he’s been in the opposite spot as the one that he was in during Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Normally, Blaney has been the hunted not the huntee. He’s dominated races in the past but lost in the end.
Not this time. Chalk it up to those past losses as to how he changed his approach this time around.
Blaney led 25 laps. Kyle Larson led 269. Larson, swept both stages and had a multi second lead following the final round of stops.
That’s how Blaney’s approach helped him with.
Larson, thought that he could extend his lead just as he’s done all day. Blaney, knew that we’d likely have a long green flag run to the end. With the 1.54 mile track being so abrasive on tires with Larson going balls out, Blaney had the maturity to slow down to be faster in the end.
“Yeah, if I was going to stick with him… I wasn’t going to be able to stick with him, I was going to burn my stuff all the way up,” Blaney said of his win. “I just got to save my tires, save my right rear and we’ll see what happens.
“At that point when I said that, no one was able to touch him all day. He would straightaway you, and even more than that. Just got to ride here, see on a longer run, if he starts coming back to us.
“Yeah, just kind of the position you were in or I was in just knowing if I try to hang with him, which I wouldn’t be able to hang with him, burn my stuff up, when he started coming back to us, obviously paid dividends just being patient. Just trying to be smart about this, not have a heavy right foot. It’s cool to win here today at a place that you have to finesse it a little bit, kind of think ahead. That was good.
“It goes back to just knowing we had a good long run car. You know what you got, try to play to your strengths.”
By Blaney doing that, his crew chief, Todd Gordon noted that it shows his growth over the last few years.
“I think there’s a — this is just the growth of a relationship,” said Gordon. “Confidence building amongst each. Yeah, it’s great to be in a position where you’re chasing them down, the hunter, not the huntee. I’ve watched Ryan grow in the last 14 months. He’s had tons of speed. He continues to do things.
“We’re understanding what we need to do as a race team to give him better stuff at the end of the race. There’s been places we’ve gone the other way. That’s all part of the learning curve.
“Trying to put that together, yeah, I was thoroughly impressed with the drive there after stage two. He knew late in that run before the pit cycle, the final run, he was running Kyle down pretty hard. Love the fact that he could put the pressure on him and still run up there at the top.”
Gordon says that he thinks that this is something that they as a team can continue to build off of.
“I think there’s a lot more opportunities to do this,” he continued. “We’ve had a couple situations where it’s gone away from us, but I would say that we all are figuring out what these pieces are that we can put together to make sure we’re successful at the end.
“Today was a culmination of those. We’ll build off that.”
Blaney hopes so. This was his fifth career Cup Series win. Unfortunately, he’s had just one each in each of the last five season. To continue this growth, he knows he has to win more than once in a year to be a legitimate championship threat. That after all, was his main goal for 2021.
“Yeah, it’s nice to win a race every year, but you don’t want to just win one race,” said Blaney.
“Honestly it’s nice to get a win early in the season now. Six races in, something like that, six different winners. It’s nice to get a win early in the season. That’s something that has kind of eluded us. We got the win at Talladega last year, but it was mid-season.
“Getting one early is great. We had the potential to do it last year. Like Todd said, we’re just learning each other. Just really proud of the effort. I look forward to the rest of the season here.”
Blaney said that this is a little bit opposite from last year.
“We led tons of laps and it just didn’t work out,” he continued.
“Today, you keep yourself in the hunt at all these races, you keep yourself running up front, you’re going to stack up wins. Today was a great example. We weren’t the best car the first half of the day, we kept working on it. Everyone did a great job, pit crew included, of keeping us in the game, keeping us top three all day. We got our car where it needed to be. We were able to capitalize on it.
“It’s just about staying in the game. We did that really well today so I’m proud of everybody.”