BRISTOL, Tenn. – Ryan Blaney has dirt racing in his blood. His father Dave won the World of Outlaws sprint car championship in 1995 and his uncle Dale was successful in sprint cars in his own right.
Friday evening at Bristol Motor Speedway, the younger Blaney added his mark on dirt to the family bloodline by pacing final practice for the Food City Dirt Race.
Blaney took the No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang to the top of the charts on his first of 67 laps around the .533-mile, dirt-covered high banks, posting a time of 20.172 seconds (95.122 mph).
It was a celebratory moment for fans of dirt racing across the country, but Blaney was quick to caution not to read too far into the time sheets from Friday’s second 50-minute session.
“Honestly, I don’t think it means anything. What means the most is how your car drives after five or 10 laps, when the track gets slicker. We just cut a good lap there,” Blaney noted. “You have to be good over the long haul, and that’s what we worked on and tried to do.
“I think we were decent for where the track ended. We’ll see where it goes.”
In contrast to the earlier NASCAR Cup Series practice session, Happy Hour on Friday featured a near-dust bowl at times, with a defined groove of rubber through the middle of the turns and a groove against the outside wall on the straightaways.
Blaney noted that the tricky conditions were a challenge for most of final practice.
“It’s rough and slick. The track’s kind of coming up, there’s crazy big divets … it’s definitely not smooth,” said Blaney of the track conditions. “There wasn’t really much lane changing. Larson and Reddick could run the top for a bit, but that went away pretty quick after that. It was all about keeping it as straight as you could and saving tires. We saw a lot of cording through the two sessions, especially the right rear.
“Tires will be really important during the race on Sunday … you’re going to have to save.”
Alex Bowman, who topped first Cup Series practice earlier in the day, was second-quick in the later round at 20.194 seconds (95.018 mph) with his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Denny Hamlin filled out the top three and gave all three car manufacturers representation near the top of the time sheets with a lap of 20.228 seconds (94.859 mph) in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Joey Logano and Chase Briscoe – both driving Fords – were fourth and fifth, respectively, on speed. Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Michael McDowell, William Byron and Kyle Busch closed the top 10.
Kyle Larson led the 10-lap, 15-lap, 20-lap, 25-lap and 30-lap averages during final Cup Series practice, but only posted the 15th-best lap time overall with the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
However, Larson will start both his heat race Saturday and Sunday’s main event from the rear of the field, due to an engine change after mechanical woes developed midway through final practice.
Heat races for the NASCAR Cup Series, which will help set the starting lineup for the Food City Dirt Race, are slated for 6 p.m. ET Saturday evening. Live coverage of the 15-lap contests will be on FS1.