AUSTIN, TX — 37 years ago, a Team Penske driver had his own “spin and win” in the Indianapolis 500. Now, we see another one, maybe not of as much significance but one that still classifies as a “spin and win.”
Ryan Blaney spun early on in Saturday morning’s NASCAR Cup Series practice session from COTA. His No. 12 Ford got into the tire barriers as a result of that. A year ago, that incident would likely have sparked him to go to a backup car and wouldn’t allow for a qualifying attempt less than an hour later.
This year, with this new car, it allowed him to learn and adapt to score his eighth Busch Pole Award of his career, two of which coming this season.
Blaney, circled the 3.41-mile Texas road course with a speed of 92.759 mph which was good enough for the top spot. He was seventh overall in practice prior at 92.377 mph.
Blaney, led a 10 car group in the final round that consisted of seven different teams. Among those seven teams, three cars belonged to Team Penske who has shown a vast improvement in road course pace compared to a year ago.
Hendrick Motorsports who has won 8 of the last 10 races in Cup competition, dating back to last year as well as 9 of the last 11 road course races, were truly the favorites. Would this new car negate their advantage on road courses? It hasn’t on ovals.
Well, Saturday showed that maybe it has. Alex Bowman was the only HMS driver in the top 15 in practice and the only one to make the final round in qualifying too. He was third in practice and qualified his No. 48 Chevrolet fifth (92.540 mph).
Chase Elliott, who beat Kyle Larson in one of their 3 1-2 finishes on road courses last year, qualified 15th in his No. 9 Chevrolet. This is his second worst starting spot of the season. Both have occurred in the last three weeks.
Larson, will start right in front of him in 13th. He’s been 13th or worse in 3 of the last 5 weeks.
Last weeks winner, William Byron, qualified 20th, worst among the group.
Trackhouse Racing may be the best among the Chevy camp. Daniel Suarez (92.741 mph) will start on the front row for his first top 10 starting spot of the season in his No. 99 Chevrolet. His teammate Ross Chastain was barely knocked out of the top five in Round 1 and will start 12th in his No. 1 Chevrolet. Chastain, has three straight top three finishes on the season including two consecutive runner-ups. He was fourth in this race a year ago. Suarez, was fourth last weekend and has three top 10’s in his last four starts on the season. They were 2nd (Suarez) and 6th (Chastain) in practice too.
Cole Custer (92.669 mph) will start third in his No. 41 Ford while last year’s pole sitter, Tyler Reddick (92.613 mph) will start alongside of him.
Reddick, was fifth in practice and has three top seven starting spots in the last four weeks. For Custer, this is the first time all season that he’s qualified in the top 20.
Joey Logano (6th), Christopher Bell (7th), Denny Hamlin (8th), Justin Haley (9th) and Austin Cindric (10th) rounded out the top 10 in the final round.
Penske had 3 cars in the top 11 in practice and all three in the top 10 in qualifying. Can they hold everyone off?
Practice speeds show that they translate well over to qualifying. 8 of the top 11 in practice made it to the final round. Justin Haley was the most improved in going from 25th in practice to 9th in quals. Denny Hamlin was 18th and Christopher Bell 13th.