As the weather radars began to look less promising and as dark clouds rolled over the garage area of Iowa Speedway on Saturday evening, there was one driver who, amid the grumbling, was thrilled with the impending showers.
And he wasn't even in the field for the DuPont Pioneer 250. At least not yet. That changed, though, when the weather was as wet as projected, forcing the race to be postponed to Sunday.
Exit Joey Logano, to Pocono for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Enter Ryan Blaney, fresh from driving in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Texas Motor Speedway and Logano's replacement driver in the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford.
"Oh, I was rooting for rain," Blaney said with a grin after his ninth-place finish Sunday afternoon. "I was hoping on it, banking on it. I think I was the only one in the garage area that wanted that to happen. It did, and it was pretty cool. I thank everyone at Penske for giving me a chance to drive."
The ninth-place effort was Blaney's second top-10 of the weekend in a NASCAR national series race -- he finished eighth at Texas. Blaney, 19, caught a few hours of sleep after his Truck Series race and flew to Newton, Iowa, early Saturday morning.
He soaked in as much information about the car as he could from Logano, who was on the entry list as the only full-time Sprint Cup driver in the field.
Then Blaney waited. Logano qualified sixth under cloudy skies Saturday afternoon, but wouldn't get the opportunity to drive in the race.
"It's funny because we were sitting there in the rain and Ryan Blaney ? he's a good kid and doesn't talk much," Logano told the media at Pocono following his 10th-place run in the Cup race. "He's kind of a quiet kid and all of a sudden it started raining and he's happy and talking and joking around. I was like, 'What the heck?' So it was funny. He's hilarious and we had a good time up there joking around."
When it became clear that it was Blaney who would be in the car at the white flag, the No. 22 team made a few adjustments. The first, and most important, had nothing to do with the car's mechanical setup.
No, the No. 22 Ford had to undergo a more necessary alteration: a seat insert. The car was meant to hold Logano's 6-foot-1 frame, not the 5-7, 140-pound makeup of Blaney.
The car itself was also built to suit Logano's liking, and although mechanical changes were made to serve Blaney, it was still a loose race car.
"He drives with a little more finesse than I do. He just drives so much different," Blaney said. "You don't know how it's going to be. We missed it a little bit the first run. It was really loose ? but, just how he likes it. I couldn't really drive it how I wanted to."
You couldn't tell. Although Logano qualified sixth, Blaney had to go to the back of the 40-car field due to the driver switch.
Through 15 of 250 laps, Blaney had already steered the car into the top 15. He cracked the top 10 by Lap 135 and stayed there for the remainder of the event, his first Nationwide Series race this year and 14th of his career.
Blaney was running as high as seventh-place until additional bad weather forced a red-flag period of nearly 70 minutes. On old tires, and with the built-up rubber washed off the oval, he slipped back a few spots in the race to the finish.
"Well, I thought we would have been fine if the 77 (Parker Kligerman) wouldn't have drilled us through the last restart," Blaney said. "But it was a pretty good day. We didn't come and get tires on the last pit stop, and most people got four or two. We had to clean the grille, too, so that's another reason why we didn't get any tires.
"When it rained, the track changed so much after that, we could just never get a handle on it and old tires made it worse. Still, it wasn't a bad day for just jumping in it."
-- Ryan Blaney on Joey Logano
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