MADISON, Ill. (AP) — Ryan Blaney isn’t slowing down now that he’s finally reached victory lane again.
After snapping his 59-race winless streak by holding off William Byron to win the rescheduled Coca-Cola 600 on Monday, Blaney put his No. 12 Ford on the front row to start the NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway.
He was less than a hundredth of a second behind pole sitter Kyle Busch in qualifying Saturday.
“It’s been satisfying not having to answer, ‘When are you going to win again?’” admitted Blaney, whose victory gave team owner Roger Penske a Memorial Day weekend sweep following Josef Newgarden’s victory in the Indianapolis 500.
“When they won,” Blaney said, “it was like a big pressure on us — ‘We’ve got to get this done.’ I didn’t know a sweep had never been done before. It was cool to be a part of it, cool to be part of the job and completing the sweep. I was able to call (Penske) Monday night around midnight, they were on the plane headed back to Michigan after the Indy banquet, and they were really excited. They were at the banquet and had their phones under the table watching the end of the race.”
Blaney turned the fastest lap during first qualifying runs on a brutally hot Saturday morning just outside St. Louis. But he didn’t quite replicate it in the pole shootout: Busch had a lap of 137.187 mph while Blaney had a lap of 137.153 mph.
Busch’s pole came about 12 hours after his family’s winning night at Doe Run Raceway. Busch won in an outlaw winged micro sprint car at the dirt track about an hour south in Missouri, while his son Brexton won in his junior sprint.
“Being able to get a pole here with Richard Childress Racing and Team Chevy and everybody with this No. 8 car is great for us, and we’ll try to get some momentum rolling,” said Busch, who battled with winner Joey Logano in the Cup Series’ debut at World Wide Technology Raceway a year ago. “Just excited to have the guys pumped up and raring to go.”
Denny Hamlin qualified third, Kevin Harvick was fourth and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five.
Hamlin said he was still feeling sore after his wreck Monday night by Chase Elliott, who was handed a one-race suspension by NASCAR for the intentional hooking maneuver. Hamlin said it was one of the hardest hits that any Joe Gibbs Racing driver has experienced in the Next Gen car, right along with his Dayton wreck last August.
“I told my team all this did was remind me, you know, that I’m not built for these types of impacts. Many of them in a row, that’s for sure,” said Hamlin, who had a compression fracture in his back from a 2013 wreck and a history of chronic back pain. “It was certainly a tough week. I don’t want to do many more of these, that’s for sure.”
A sellout crowd of about 60,000 is expected Sunday for the second trip by NASCAR’s top series to the St. Louis area. But with temperatures expected to hit the mid-90s by the afternoon start, it could be a grueling day for drivers and fans alike.
“It might be a little tough to pass,” Busch said. “I hope I’m wrong and it widens out and we can have a good show for these fans that are coming out to pack the house and sit in this heat.”