Blaney puts 'frustrating' finish behind him as NASCAR hits Sonoma

motorsport07 June 2024 23:26| © Reuters
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Ryan Blaney © Gallo Images

While Ford driver Austin Cindric scored a much-needed victory with a shocking gift from a Team Penske teammate outside of St. Louis last Sunday, Ryan Blaney and Christopher Bell will be looking for redemption as the schedule twists and turns to Northern California this weekend.

Bell and the winless Blaney, both former winners on the NASCAR Cup Series' road courses, will seek their fair returns Sunday afternoon in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at recently repaved Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.

Disaster struck for Blaney, the sport's defending champion, while speeding toward the white flag at Gateway with a comfortable lead over Cindric, who possessed an 85-race winless streak and owned just one previous Cup win.

Blaney ran out of gas as he came down the frontstretch and Cindric roared past him to victory. Blaney sputtered to 24th place.

Sunday's win put the 25-year-old Cindric into the championship playoff, but losing on the flat track with victory so close kept Blaney out of the title hunt for now. The No 12 driver sits fifth in points among winless drivers.

Blaney did an exceptional job fighting off Bell, whose No 20 Toyota was the class of the field.

"That's frustrating to drive your (butt) off to keep him behind you," Blaney said on pit road. "I don't know what happened to him, but you think you do a good job and drive your (butt) off and feel like you weathered the storm of just trying to get it home and you run out. Proud of the day. It's just one of those deals."

Blaney, whose lone road-course win came at Charlotte Motor Speedway's inaugural Roval race in 2018, has been hit-or-miss at Sonoma in seven starts.

Over four top-10 finishes, his best was third in 2019 in a race won by Martin Truex Jr., also winless so far. In the other three starts in the Napa Valley wine region, Blaney has a sour average finish of 29.3.

Bell led a race-high 80 laps at Gateway, but his Joe Gibbs Racing ride succumbed to a broke valve spring after he used all of the 1.25-mile speedway to catch Blaney in the final 25 laps.

"That one sucks, there's no way around it," said Bell, who has two wins on NASCAR's curvy courses, at the Charlotte Roval in 2022 and the Daytona Road Course in 2021. "You don't get race cars like that very often. And whenever you do, you need to take advantage of it."

A two-time winner in 2024, Bell has made three starts at the 1.99-mile road Sonoma layout. He came home ninth in the 110-lap event last season, but his average finish is only 20.

Others hopefuls include seven-time road-course winner Chase Elliott, five-time winner Truex (Sonoma's active leader with four victories) and four-time road victors Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson.

Hendrick Motorsports icon Jeff Gordon owns the track record with five career victories, while one each from Jimmie Johnson and Larson gives the organisation seven all-time.

Nine drivers have won thus far in 2024. Larson, a two-time winner so far, was granted a waiver Tuesday after skipping the Coca-Cola 600 in favour of the Indianapolis 500 and will compete for his second title in the fall.