Before he took questions from reporters, Ryan Blaney chatted with Brad Keselowski in the interview room.
“Damn, dude,” Keselwoski said. “Good job.”
They talked in low tones about the Go Bowling 400 on Saturday at Kansas Speedway, an event that may have gotten Blaney’s Monster Energy Cup Series season back on track.
Blaney, the pole-sitter, finished fourth. For most of the night he appeared to have no worse than the second-best car behind winner Martin Truex Jr.
A slow finish shuffled Blaney, 23, back, but he had a solid night in a race slowed by 15 cautions.
“I felt we had the best car for 15, 20 laps,” Blaney said.
Blaney led for 83 laps, second only to Truex’s 104, and held hopes of driving his Wood Brothers Ford Fusion into Victory Lane for his first Cup victory until the final restart with two laps remaining.
The only chance in the end Blaney believed was to race door-to-door with Truex.
“If we cleared him you never know what could happen,” Blaney said. “We were super-loose on a couple of restarts. But I thought we should have finished second.
But Truex increased his lead on the final restart ahead of Blaney, who was passed by Keselowski and Kevin Harvick with a lap remaining.
An earlier restart proved a bigger moment. Blaney had the lead with 20 laps remaining when Corey LaJoie lost control and brought out the 13th caution.
On the restart, Truex blew past Blaney and never gave the lead back.
“I thought we were in a pretty good spot, and he made a good move on that restart and was able to pass us,” Blaney said. “They we had a couple more opportunities toward the end of the race and he got a couple of good restarts and we didn’t.”
Still, it was a terrific weekend. On Friday, Blaney claimed his first career pole. On Saturday, he won the race’s second stage to collect a playoff point.
The weekend more closely resembled he first few weeks of the season more than the previous month.
Blaney’s season started with a second-place finish at Daytona and he recorded two more top-10 finishes over the next four races.
Then things turned sour. A 33rd-place finish at Bristol, a 36th at Richmond and a 39th last week at Talladega left Blaney without momentum heading to Kansas.
Perhaps fortunes have reversed.
“It’s really nice to be back on track to be honest with you,” Blaney said. “The last three races have been really, really bad, and it’s just kind of an extra slap in the face that we’ve had really fast cars in all those races. We should have had top 10s in all of them.
“So it was nice to show our muscle this weekend and prove that this is where the team deserves to be. Of course we wanted to win, but at the same time you look at the gains we made all weekend and really being fast all weekend. It puts us back to where we need to be for sure.”