In a field full of NASCAR’s finest young stars, Ryan Blaney rose above all of them to take victory in the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway after a frantic night of racing.
His #22 Penske Racing Ford Mustang – normally shared with Sprint Cup drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano – was a pace-setter all night, but he had to overcome strong rivals, cautions falling at inopportune times, and fraught restart action to take his fourth Xfinity Series win at the 1.5 mile tri-oval. Ty Dillon took the fight to him in the second half of the race and looked to potentially have him beat, but a great final restart on the Green-White-Checkered finish – and some help from the experienced Regan Smith – helped Blaney and Penske prevail over Dillon and Richard Childress Racing. Just.
This race was unique for the NASCAR Xfinity Series as it was the last stand-alone race of the year, running at a track separate to the Cup series, who are at New Hampshire this weekend. Therefore, with no Sprint Cup drivers making Saturday cameos (and either improving or stinking up the show depending on your viewpoint), the young talent of which the developmental divisions of NASCAR is famous for had the spotlight all to themselves. And boy did they make the most of it.
Brandon Jones made headlines going into the race after penning a full-season deal with Richard Childress Racing for next year’s Xfinity Series season, and demonstrated exactly what got that deal with a stirring drive, featuring multiple 3-wide moves for the lead and a late-race rally from 17th up to 5th after a caution fell during the last pit-stop cycle at lap 170. Series debutant Matt Tift ran strongly all night, netting 10th in the end having ran as high as 2nd in the final quarter of the race, while teammate Erik Jones took 8th in the #54 car more commonly seen with one Kyle Busch behind the wheel. Behind them, give a tip of the hat to Ryan Sieg, whose plucky #39 Chevrolet team matched their best result of the season with P12 and ‘best of the rest’ status behind the Sprint Cup developmental teams.
Stirring stuff also in the title battle, where Roush Racing‘s Chris Buescher was in damage limitation all night, but a late rally to 7th helped minimise Dillon’s point gains. Meanwhile Chase Elliott’s recent upswing continued, with the man destined to fill the biggest shoes in NASCAR next year netting a 4th place having spent most of the night right up against the wall on restarts, netting positions hand over fist, and even surviving a white-knuckle five-wide moment through Turn 2 with ten laps to go.
Ten cautions meant this one was an attrition battle, and plenty left Kentucky with bent fenders and egos; particularly Brian Scott, who had a strong race turn sour in the second half before piling into Cale Conley with 17 laps to go and causing Ryan Truex and Ross Chastain to wreck out of promising runs. More followed after the race with an ungainly slanging match with Darrell Wallace Jr., who himself netted a solid 9th for Roush Racing. Jeremy Clement’s #51 Chevrolet was also fairly rough around the edges by race end, and the final result of P19 doesn’t reflect a gutsy drive for that camp, including perhaps move of the race with an excellent 4-wide pass on the front straight in the final third of the race.
Given such a fiercely competitive field then, Blaney’s victory looks all the more impressive. And one thing this race definitively proved was that no other race series in the world has strength in depth, and young talent rising through the ranks, quite as much as NASCAR does right now. The next decade of Sprint Cup competition is in safe, aggressive, and fearless hands.