NASCAR Barometer: Blaney Scores First Cup Series Win

NASCAR Barometer: Blaney Scores First Cup Series Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Ryan Blaney worked hard to pass Kyle Busch and then hold off a serious charge from Kevin Harvick to score his first Monster Energy Cup series victory at Pocono Raceway on Sunday in the Pocono 400. The Wood Brothers Racing driver started on the second row and held station in and around the top 10 throughout the afternoon, while other drivers came and went. His lack of mistakes and fresher tires in the final miles made the difference, as he was able to track down and pass Busch with still enough left in the bag to hold off former champion Harvick. The win wasn't a one-off event either. This team and driver have proven capable of running up front nearly every outing, and the groundwork for a championship run has certainly been laid.

This week the drivers and teams will prepare to tackle Michigan International Speedway. The bid D-shaped oval favors horsepower. The track was the scene of Kyle Larson's inaugural win last fall, while Joey Logano took the win in the spring from pole.

UPGRADE

Ryan Blaney – Blaney became the third first-time winner this season after overtaking Kyle Busch and then holding off Kevin Harvick in a close duel in the final 10 laps. The Wood Brothers Racing driver has been knocking on the door of Victory Lane for some time, and did everything right to make that dream a reality on Sunday. Sunday's race was executed to perfection, and the young driver turned in an impressive performance

Ryan Blaney worked hard to pass Kyle Busch and then hold off a serious charge from Kevin Harvick to score his first Monster Energy Cup series victory at Pocono Raceway on Sunday in the Pocono 400. The Wood Brothers Racing driver started on the second row and held station in and around the top 10 throughout the afternoon, while other drivers came and went. His lack of mistakes and fresher tires in the final miles made the difference, as he was able to track down and pass Busch with still enough left in the bag to hold off former champion Harvick. The win wasn't a one-off event either. This team and driver have proven capable of running up front nearly every outing, and the groundwork for a championship run has certainly been laid.

This week the drivers and teams will prepare to tackle Michigan International Speedway. The bid D-shaped oval favors horsepower. The track was the scene of Kyle Larson's inaugural win last fall, while Joey Logano took the win in the spring from pole.

UPGRADE

Ryan Blaney – Blaney became the third first-time winner this season after overtaking Kyle Busch and then holding off Kevin Harvick in a close duel in the final 10 laps. The Wood Brothers Racing driver has been knocking on the door of Victory Lane for some time, and did everything right to make that dream a reality on Sunday. Sunday's race was executed to perfection, and the young driver turned in an impressive performance to overcome two of the greatest drivers in the series to come out on top. Blaney has raced in the Cup series at Michigan four times in his career, and his best finish was fourth last fall. More triumphs are sure to come from this combination.

Kyle Busch – For yet another race Busch led the most laps and failed to come out on top. This time it was to Blaney, who passed Busch on fresher tires in the closing miles at Pocono. Earlier Busch leapt from the pole and went on to win the first stage of Sunday's Pocono 400. However, he didn't have the fastest car when it mattered. Blaney's fresher tires enabled him to overtake the former champion and relegate Busch to another disappointing finish. Busch has one career Michigan win that came in 2011. He dropped out of last year's race with engine trouble and finished 19th in the fall. He hasn't scored a top-10 at the track since the spring 2013 when he finished fourth.

Kyle Larson – Larson was out front to win the one-lap shootout for the second stage victory in Pocono on Sunday. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was exceptionally quick through practice, but couldn't challenge Busch in the first segment. He gave up the point to Busch again in the third stage, but hung in the fight throughout the remainder of the race. His seventh-place finish was third in the last four races. The numbers he has been posting so far this season have been impressive, and more wins seem to be on the offer. Both of Larson's visits to Michigan last season resulted in top-five finishes, and it was the scene of his first ever series win in the fall.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick did all he could to unsettle Blaney in the final laps of Sunday's race, but in the end the No. 4 machine simply came up short. Blaney didn't make any mistakes, and Harvick couldn't get close enough to force the issue. That means the former champion is still lacking a win in 2017. Despite nine top-10s and five top-fives from 14 starts so far this season, Harvick would love the playoff security an elusive win would bring. Still, his performances have been enough to show that wins will come. Fantasy owners have a relatively safe play nearly every week in him, and the win will come eventually. With three consecutive top-fives at Michigan heading into this week, it could come in just a few days.

Kurt Busch – Some may have missed it, but Busch has built momentum after an early season slump. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver scored four top-10s in the last six races and has seven total top-10s so far this season. He has the win that will put one foot into the playoffs, but the squad now has some serious momentum as they head into the summer portion of the schedule. Next up is a track where Busch has won three times, too. His last Michigan win was two years ago when he started 24th and led just six laps to walk away with the trophy. He finished 10th and 12th in the two visits last season and should be a driver fantasy players should pay attention to this week.

DOWNGRADE

Joey Logano – Since his encumbered win in Richmond, Logano has struggled. Those problems continued early in Pocono when a flat left-rear tire meant he had to make an early and unscheduled visit to the pits. The damage proved to be too much to overcome for the Penske driver, and he finished Sunday's race in the 23rd position. This team is in a slump and needs to fix things before they can be regular fantasy options in the near term. Logano started from pole in both Michigan races last season and won the spring edition, but does that mean Logano can right the ship this week? Fantasy owners should wait to see proof in practice before choosing him again this week.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Not only did Earnhardt have to start at the rear of the field after breaking and engine in practice, but he also blew another shortly into the second segment on Sunday. It was not a good weekend for the No. 88 team that has floundered recently. The team struggled with shifting throughout the weekend but ruined two transmissions in one weekend despite no major changes from the team heading into the event. Sunday's problem was Earnhardt's second DNF of the season and makes for an extended period of bad luck for the team. He does have two Michigan wins, though. He finished 10th in last year's spring race, but crashed out of the fall version.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson had a brake failure that sent him spinning into the outside wall toward the end of the second stage in Sunday's race. The defending champion took a hard hit at a result of the failure and was out of Sunday's race earlier than he would have liked. In 30 career starts, Johnson has one Michigan victory, which was in 2014. He has nothing to worry about from a championship standpoint, but going from a win to a DNF in back to back weeks makes life pretty difficult. It was always going to be a challenge to win consecutive races but a top finish would have been preferable to a DNF. Fantasy players may want to see how Johnson performance in practice next week before selection.

Kasey Kahne – Kahne, like Johnson, suffered a mechanical failure that saw his day end against the wall. The DNF was a shame for the team that could have added a top finish to their accomplishments at a track where Kahne has a tendency to outperform expectations. Instead, the No. 5 team continues to languish outside of the playoff positions with it all to do before the playoffs begin at the end of the season. Kahne has one Michigan win from 2006 but hasn't finished in the top 10 at the circuit in the last five races. Kahne has to begin living up to the accomplishments of his teammates soon. His time with Hendrick Motorsports has not produced the results either party was expecting, and at this point patience must be wearing thin.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Erik Jones – Sunday's third-place finish in Pocono was Jones' best finish since joining the Cup series this year. He drove a mature race with very few incidents, which enabled him to be in contention in the final miles. It was a veteran's performance from a rookie driver. The finish was his first top-five of the season, which is pretty difficult to believe considering how quick he has been throughout the season. This is a driver who will be one of the stars of the sport, and the signs he is showing today could even make him a regular fantasy play right now. He has just three top-10 finishes this season, but with a top-five under his belt more may be coming in short order.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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