FORT WORTH, TX (Sunday, April 09, 2017) – – Ryan Blaney blasted to the lead in The 21st Annual O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway within the 30-lap mark. Blaney was a favorite to win following his strong performances on-track during Friday and Saturday test sessions. He would go on to lead 148 of the 334 laps that comprised the 500-mile distance.
Kevin Harvick would show some muscle, leading 77 laps. Martin Truex Jr led 49 laps. Joey Logano led 38. Brad Keselowski led four. Jimmie Johnson, whose fans had been vocal about dismal 2017 performance thus far, led 18 laps. Although Blaney led the completion of stages one and two, it was California’s Jimmie Johnson who led the final one and made the trip to Texas Motor Speedway victory lane.
Matching his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship count, Johnson nows holds seven victories in The Lone Star State.
Kyle Larson never controlled the race, but rallied with a late-race charge. He surged to the inside of second-place Joey Logano in the closing laps and significantly closed the distance back from the leader, but it was too little – too late. Johnson cruised to victory by three tenths of a second over Larson.
Logano held onto third. Kevin Harvick ended the day in fourth. Dale Earnhardt Jr, who was noticeably fast in the last 30 laps, also ran out of time, but garnered a top five finish. Brad Keselowski was sixth, with Jamie McMurray seventh, Martin Truex Jr eight, Chase Elliott ninth and Kurt Busch in the final top-ten spot.
The field spread out in single-file formation almost immediately, until a second groove began to develop as the race wore on. The top eight finishers, plus Blaney, captured the spotlight throughout the day, proving to be the only Cup stars capable of getting a handle of the new asphalt surface at the Fort Worth 1.5-mile speedway. Each took turns chasing Blaney, until hard contact with Corey LaJoie near lap 300. Blaney was never a factor again.
Joey Logano and Team Penske played pit strategy that began with the 22 car stretching green flag stops after lap 200. Beyond the laps 300 mark, green-flag pit stops brought the field down pit road again, minus Logano, who had worked himself onto a much later pit cycle. The strategy paid off early, as Kevin Harvick was the first off of pit road, but found himself second to Logano, who only had a dozen or so laps on his Good Year Eagles.
Johnson eventually worked his way into the lead with around 15 laps remaining. Except the failed effort by Larson, Johnson drove to the finish without a credible threat.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series takes off for Easter weekend, with a return to action at Tennessee’s Bristol Motor Speedway for the running of The Food City 500 on Sunday, April 23.