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Blaney Emerges as New Star of Summer after Stirring Pocono Victory

The Brickyard 400 always has featured a blend of history and the future, from its inception.

In 1994, the inaugural Brickyard 400 was the first race without open-wheel cars since the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in 1909. And Jeff Gordon cemented his status as the hottest new star in NASCAR by winning the historic first stock car race at IMS, setting the stage for a spectacular career that included four Cup Series championships and four more Brickyard 400 victories.

That fusion of the past and the future for the Brickyard 400 could enter another chapter Sunday, July 23 through the emerging star of Ryan Blaney.

Blaney broke through for his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory Sunday, June 11 at Pocono Raceway. He passed two-time reigning Brickyard 400 champion Kyle Busch with nine laps remaining and held off 2003 Brickyard 400 winner Kevin Harvick by .139 of a second in a thrilling finish.

The win was significant because it qualified Blaney for the postseason playoff. It also reinforced Blaney, 23, as one of the leaders of an impressive group of young stars blossoming this season in the Cup Series. Blaney, Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. each have earned their first Cup Series victories in 2017, the first time three drivers have achieved breakthrough wins at the top level of NASCAR since 2011.

“I think it's a great day,” second-year Cup Series driver Blaney said. “We've had a bunch of new winners this year. Ricky got his first win this year. Austin won the 600.

“It's nice to be part of kind of this younger group of drivers, and I think we're all kind of coming into our own.”

Blaney’s victory generated even more goodwill than usual. His father, Ohio native Dave Blaney, was the 1984 USAC Silver Crown champion and 1995 World of Outlaws champion before moving to the NASCAR Cup Series, where he remained very popular as “The Buckeye Bullet” despite not winning a race.

Ryan Blaney’s breakthrough also was greeted with great warmth because it was the 99th career win for the legendary Wood Brothers and their legendary No. 21 Ford. It also was the team’s first triumph since Trevor Bayne earned a shock victory in the 2011 Daytona 500.

The Wood Brothers were one of NASCAR’s top teams in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s with drivers such as the legendary David Pearson and Neil Bonnett. The team also introduced speedy, NASCAR-style pit stops to Indy in the 1965 Indianapolis 500, helping Scotsman Jim Clark drive to an easy victory in Colin Chapman’s Lotus-Ford.

There’s another link between the Wood Brothers and an Indianapolis 500 icon. The team has a technical alliance with the NASCAR operation of Penske Racing, which has won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” a record 16 times.

“He's special all right,” Wood Brothers President and Co-Owner Eddie Wood said of Blaney. “Ryan was going to be special because everywhere we went he had speed, and that's something that doesn't come easily. We were on a brand-new team, everybody was new, young. Every week he had fast cars, and a lot of it is due to the driver.

“Given our alliance with Team Penske that is second to none, that just really makes a big difference, and Jeremy (Bullins) came over to be a crew chief, and it just all worked out.

“Blaney is on his way now. He outrun two guys today that are champions, and they're at the top of their game, and to outrun them to win a race here, this is one of the toughest tracks that we go to. I'm really, really proud of him, and he's here. He's arrived now.”

Busch made a bold block on Blaney in Turn 1 with 10 laps to go Sunday at the “Tricky Triangle” of Pocono. Busch also forced Blaney deep to the inside in Turn 2, the treacherous “Tunnel Turn,” on the same lap.

But Blaney finally dove under Busch for the lead in Turn 3 on that lap. Then another challenge arose.

Another one of NASCAR’s true hard men, Harvick, stalked Blaney from behind. But Blaney turned nine perfect laps on a 2.5-mile track with flat corners and long straightaways – much like IMS – to earn his first victory even though he lost radio communication with his team.

Shortly after the checkered flag, congratulations flowed on Twitter from sources as varied as past Cup champions Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch and 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner Mario Andretti.

“That means a lot, obviously,” Blaney said. “That's really cool that they showed their respect.

“It was so cool on the cool-down lap to see everybody come up and give you a thumbs-up. That to me is so cool, to show all the support that they have, whether it's your best friend or your worst enemy, people you've had run-ins with, they were congratulating me, and that's cool.”

Visit IMS.com to buy tickets for the Brickyard 400 and Lilly Diabetes 250 weekend, to buy tickets for the other remaining events in 2017 at the Racing Capital of the World – the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational, Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim and the Red Bull Air Race – and to renew tickets for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on Sunday, May 27, 2018.

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Ryan Blaney
 
Blaney Emerges as New Star of Summer after Stirring Pocono Victory
Blaney broke through for his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory Sunday, June 11 at Pocono Raceway. He passed two-time reigning Brickyard 400 champion Kyle Busch with nine laps remaining and held off 2003 Brickyard 400 winner Kevin Harvick by .139 of a second in a thrilling finish.
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