Long Pond, Pa. — Ryan Blaney was stationed in victory lane with a headset on as a guest pit reporter just the day before at Pocono Raceway. But to get there again, on his own in the No. 21 Ford, he’d have to zip past a pair of hardened NASCAR champions with just 10 laps left.
Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch may not be ready yet to officially pass the torch to the next generation of drivers. So it’s up to young 20-somethings like Blaney to yank that torch — that checkered flag — and knock ‘em off their perch.
Driving for owners with roots steeped in NASCAR history, Blaney blazed his way down the stretch past Busch, held off a hard-charging Harvick, and won his first career NASCAR Cup race Sunday at the raceway.
That’s career win No. 99 for the Wood Brothers.
No. 1 for Blaney, well, that felt pretty good.
Blaney, a “Star Wars” nut, was tongue tied when he met actress Daisy Ridley in March. An hour or so after confetti fluttered on him in victory lane, he offered an open invitation to Ridley to join the post-race party.
The bash might last as long as a “Star Wars” marathon.
“Maybe she watched the race today,” Blaney said. “She better get on a plane right now. It’ll actually be going on all night, so she’s got plenty of time to get here.”
The 23-year-old Blaney, son of NASCAR driver Dave Blaney, grandson of dirt track star Lou Blaney, won for the first time in 68 career starts and partied again in victory lane. He was a guest reporter for Fox during the Xfinity race.
Blaney interviewed Xfinity winner Brad Keselowski in victory lane on Saturday as part of an all-driver broadcast by Fox. Keselowski finished fifth on Sunday and returned the favor by crashing the broadcast and interviewed Blaney.
“What was going through your mind? You’re in victory lane, man!” Keselowski said.
“I just didn’t want to make a mistake,” Blaney told Keselowski. “That would have been the worst thing we could do.”
He was near flawless over those final 10 laps.
“He outran two guys today that are champions,” Eddie Wood said.
It was a bit of a throwback for the Woods. Blaney’s radio was busted and he had no communication with his team after about the first 40 laps.
“It figures the one race we don’t have radio communication, we end up winning it,” Blaney said. “Maybe we should turn the radio off more often.”
The Wood Brothers have won at least one race in each of the last six decades, but none since Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 in 2011.
Blaney is the 18th driver to win a Cup race with the Wood Brothers.
He is also part of a bumper crop of blossoming young talent that his hit NASCAR over the last couple of years. Two of those drivers were in the top 10: rookie Erik Jones was third and Chase Elliott was eighth.
Blaney joined Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon as first-time Cup winners this season.
“We can finally add our name to that group,” a beaming Blaney said.
Harvick, the 2014 champion, knows the new generation is coming on strong.
“These young guys have to get into victory lane to get these fans that don’t like me and Kyle,” he said. “The younger crowd has to win, and today Ryan was able to do that, so not only is it good for him, but it’s good for the whole sport.”
Blaney had a brief chat in victory lane with one of his best friends and fellow driver, Darrell Wallace Jr. Wallace finished a lap down in 26th in the first start by a black driver in the Cup series since 2006. He felt ill after the race and needed to go to the medical center. Wallace said he was embarrassed, but fine.
“It was really cool, a really fun day,” Wallace said.
The Wood Brothers share a technical alliance with team owner Roger Penske and “The Captain” would like to add Blaney to his roster, possibly next year.
Next year was a worry for another day.
“I like where I’m at,” Blaney said.
With the Wood Brothers.
And, in victory lane.
At Montreal, Lewis Hamilton won the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix for the sixth time and the third year in a row.
Valtteri Bottas was second, 19.7 seconds behind, to give Mercedes a sweep of the top two spots as it jostles with Ferrari in the championship points race. Hamilton entered the day trailing Sebastien Vettel, who finished fourth, by 25 points. He cut the deficit to 141-129.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was third for the third straight week, celebrating on the podium by drinking champagne out of his race-worn shoe. He then shared a sip with actor Sir Patrick Stewart, who was serving as the post-race master of ceremonies.
The pink Force India cars of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon were fifth and sixth after battling among each other on the track — and over the radio — for position down the stretch. Native Montrealer Lance Stroll was ninth — the first-ever points for the 18-year-old rookie.