Late surge has Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers contending for spot in championship round
AVONDALE, Arizona — Ryan Blaney and the Wood Brothers have done something the past three weeks they hadn’t done all year.
Score consecutive top-10 finishes.
For Blaney and the Woods to have a chance to win the Cup title next weekend in Miami, they’ll have to extend that streak to a fourth consecutive race Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.
One spot remains in the championship round. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. already have secured spots.
Brad Keselowski holds the final transfer position. He leads Denny Hamlin by 19 points, Blaney by 22, Chase Elliott by 49 and Jimmie Johnson by 51.
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Keselowski starts 16th Sunday — lowest among the remaining playoff contenders — while Blaney won the pole.
Blaney is in position to contend for that final transfer position because of the team’s recent surge. A third-place finish at Kansas was followed by an eighth at Martinsville and a sixth last weekend at Texas. It’s a big change from earlier this year.
“We’ve had great weekends and then we can never seem to really back it up,’’ Blaney said of the struggles to score back-to-back top-10 finishes until this month. “That’s something that’s frustrating. I think we’ve had mostly good cars all year, and I feel like what’s changed in the past few weeks is multiple things.
“I think we’re getting better as a team. I think our cars are getting to where they need to be and we’re just cleaning up races, whether it’s on pit road or on the race track. We’re getting those better and we’re able to finish a lot better.
“I think it’s just everybody working well together and things finally coming together for us, which is the right time for things to come together. It’s just been nice to kind of see these weekends get a little bit more steady and be able to put together these 400- or 500-mile races.’’
Blaney, though, says he doesn’t feel pressure with his situation.
“If we were like in a spot where we could get bumped out, that would be pressure,’’ Blaney said. “We really don’t have much to lose just because we’re not in a position to where we’re already locked in. I just think we’re up for the challenge. I think that’s when real teams show what they’re made of.”
That Kansas race was pivotal because Blaney had to relinquish his third starting spot and take the green flag at the rear of the field because his car failed inspection after qualifying. To come back and finish third was significant for the team.
“I thought the situation at Kansas was a big challenge for us,’’ Blaney said. “I thought the way that we handled it in overcoming it was a big statement for our team and a big realization for us that we can come from the back, we can race with the best teams and cars and we deserve that right.’’
They’ll have to do it again if Blaney hopes to lead the Wood Brothers into the title round and have a chance to win their first Cup crown since 1963 when they won the owner’s championship.