Blaney looking to put some heat into NASCAR’s summer stretch

Ryan Blaney’s victory Sunday night at Iowa Speedway accomplished more than getting the No. 12 team back to victory lane.

It checked a box the reigning series champions have prioritized this season. Jonathan Hassler, Blaney’s crew chief, was quick to acknowledge this after the checkered flag in the Iowa Corn 350.

“Hey, we talked about being a team of the summer,” Hassler said. “We did it.”

Per the calendar, the summer doesn’t officially start until June 20. Blaney’s victory was June 16. But in NASCAR, the summer stretch has always seemed to begin after Memorial Day weekend when the sport’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600, goes into the books.


Regardless of whether summer begins at the beginning or the end of June, it’s not a stretch Blaney and his team have enjoyed. Last year, Blaney had four top-10 finishes (three were ninth-place results) in the 12 races following the Coca-Cola 600 through the end of the regular season. In six of those races, Blaney finished 22nd or worse.

“If you look back to last year, we won the Coke 600, had a decent run at Gateway (St. Louis) and then I think we had a month, month and a half of struggling to find our way,” Hassler explained. “It wasn’t until early in the middle of the first round of the playoffs, somewhere in there that we really got things rolling again, and we wanted to be better earlier in the year. We wanted to improve our road course program. If you look at last week at Sonoma, we’ve done that.

“That’s a big part of the summer. So, yeah, I’m excited with where we’re at (now).”

Blaney jumped from 12th in the championship standings to seventh with his victory at Iowa. He’s led 222 laps in the last three races (which began the week after the Coca-Cola 600). It puts him well above how he netted out in those 12 summer races last year when he led a combined 112 laps.

“We didn’t have a great summer last year,” Blaney said. “After Gateway last year, we had like two months of just not running good at all. No pace. Not finishing races. I had to hear stuff from you all, all summer that we sucked. And we did. We just weren’t very good, and we were trying some stuff, but we fixed that.

“We talked about that during the off-season of, ‘Hey, let’s focus on these summer months. Let’s not go through that little dip like we did last year. Just utilize the summer months a little better than what we did.’ That was cool that we were able to achieve that because we worked really hard on that; tried to be better at this point of the year, at a better time than last year. So, hopefully that continues.”

The victory at Iowa was a long time coming. Blaney carried the Ford banner early in the season, even leading the point standings in March. But the speed and consistency his team had stopped short for one reason or another of being good enough to win.

Ironically, the week after Blaney crashed out of the Coca-Cola 600, it was St. Louis where it looked like it was finally going to come together. Blaney was leading to the white flag when he ran out of fuel.

Sonoma Raceway (a seventh-place finish) and Iowa (the win) are the first back-to-back top-10 finishes Blaney has had since March. And after the rough way May ended, Blaney admitted the push through the summer again came up in conversation.

“Yeah, it came up when we had a few bad races in a row, got wrecked out, stuff like that,” he said. “But it was mainly talks with our group, our whole team, about looking forward to being a summer team. Every off-season, you try to fix things: what did we not do well in the prior year? That was one of them that we had a bad summer and let’s try to fix that.

“How do we do that? How do we learn quicker to be more competitive through the summer months? So, it’s nice when you set goals like that as a team and then achieve them. That part is good.”

Story originally appeared on Racer