NASCAR notebook: Blaney perseveres for strong finish

Jun 2, 2018; Long Pond, PA, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Blaney (12) during practice for the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Long Pond, Pa. - A promising Friday didn't produce a satisfying Sunday for defending Pocono 400 winner Ryan Blaney. After winning the pole position for the 14th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of the season, Blaney stayed out front for the first 11 laps of the event at Pocono Raceway before Kevin Harvick passed him for the lead. That was the last time Blaney would hold the top spot. After starting a cycle of green-flag pit stops on Lap 16, Blaney couldn't contend with the "speed" cars of race winner Martin Truex Jr. and third- and fourth-place finishers Kyle Busch and Harvick. Toward the end of the first stage, Blaney surrendered positions to Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott. He finished seventh in the 50-lap stage and sixth in the race -- a disappointing result at the track that gave him his only victory in the series to date. "It was a really hard day," Blaney said. "We didn't start out very good and worked on it really hard. I thought we were about a fourth- or fifth-place car, and we were running fifth there when the caution came out (for debris on Lap 139). "That jumbled everyone up, and we came in and put two (tires) on it, and my car didn't really drive that good on two tires. We ended up sixth. I thought we were better than a couple cars that finished in front of us. We worked on it pretty hard all day, and to make gains like we did through the day is a positive." BUBBA WALLACE'S RETURN TO POCONO ENDS WITH ENGINE FAILURE The anticipation Bubba Wallace felt on returning to the track where he made his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut last season soon turned to disappointment when the engine in his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet expired after 108 laps, the result of a missed shift. That terminal failure followed a pit road speeding violation that forced Wallace to serve a pass-through penalty, putting the prospect of a strong finish in jeopardy. "I made a mistake on pit road speeding again here at Pocono," Wallace said ruefully after steering his car to the garage. "We took the wave-around, and we were on older stuff (tires). The No. 95 (Kasey Kahne) was a little bit better than us, well, for sure better. I just tucked in behind him so we didn't waste too much time and kind of did like a long shift and gave up a little bit of time." That led to the costly miscue. "I did it earlier in the race around some cars and had no trouble with it. I just had too much weight and pulled to the left and went from third (gear) to second. I really hate it, and I have never done it before. It's a bummer. She screamed pretty loud for a second and that was it. It didn't re-fire after that. "(Crew chief) Drew (Blickensderfer) came up with a good strategy to make us rebound from that penalty that we had, and I thought we were going to set ourselves up for a decent finish. That's what we needed. We kind of struggled with some front grip all weekend long, but we started hitting on it right there at the end." MATT KENSETH RALLIES FOR HARD-FOUGHT 13th-PLACE FINISH Matt Kenseth's return to Roush Fenway Racing hasn't been the panacea the organization had hoped it might be, but the No. 6 team made progress in Sunday's Pocono 400 after losing a lap to eventual race winner Martin Truex Jr. near the end of the first 50-lap stage. After starting 26th, Kenseth spent the first two stages outside the top 20 before taking a wave-around under caution after the completion of Stage 2. Kenseth and crew chief Matt Puccia parlayed the return to the lead lap into a respectable finish -- Kenseth's best since returning to the team -- but the outfit has miles to go before it will become competitive with the elite of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. "It was a struggle all day for us," Kenseth said. "I felt like we got fortunate at the end with some pit strategy by Matt and some cautions that got us back in position to finish 13th. "But we didn't run that well. I feel like we made a small amount of headway today, but we still have a bunch of work to do." --By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media