Ryan Blaney
Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

Strong runs, continued contention for Blaney a positive for Gordon

FONTANA, Calif. — Through the first three weeks of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, Ryan Blaney has been one of the strongest drivers week in and week out.

He battled for the lead on the last lap of the Daytona 500 and finished second to Denny Hamlin. He held the lead at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with five to go before an untimely caution led to a strategy split among the field in which he pitted from the lead and finished 11th. In Sunday’s Auto Club 400, Blaney spent the bulk of the race running in the top two, won a stage — his first of the year — and then had a tire go down in the closing laps to finish 19th.

“It’s been a good three races for us, but the last two we haven’t gotten the finishes we deserve,” Blaney said on pit road. “Hope our luck turns around.”

Blaney holds the points lead through the first three races and also has accumulated the most stage points so far. For much of the Auto Club 400, Blaney was the only driver who put up much of a challenge to race-winner Alex Bowman. His 54 laps led were the second most to Bowman, and they were the only drivers to lead more than 10 laps.

RELATED: Full race results | Blaney, Bowman split stage wins 

Those details, plus the speed Blaney has shown in his No. 12 Team Penske Ford, are things crew chief Todd Gordon says the team can build on rather than focus on the disappointment of good runs spoiled late.

“Ryan, I give him kudos,” Gordon told NASCAR.com. “He drove his guts out to try and get there, and we had the right rear come apart trying to do it. I think it’s positive. You are looking at a group that this is our third race together. We’ve been in contention to win all three of them.

“What more can you ask for? You can ask for wins, right? I really feel like the team is doing a great job. Ryan’s doing a great job. Wins will come. They’re coming. We’re doing the right things and building notebooks.”

In January, Team Penske announced it was shuffling the deck with its crew chiefs and Gordon moved from Joey Logano — who he won the 2018 Cup championship with — to Blaney. While this may just be his first year with Blaney, Gordon has gotten a good look at the young driver for a long time and was familiar with his tendencies before he became his crew chief.

“I’ve been around Ryan since he drove the Xfinity car,” Gordon said. “We’ve got great knowledge. As an organization, we look at where everybody is every weekend. I’ve looked at Ryan’s data for four years. I’ve seen what he wants in setups for four years.

“The communication part was already there. The shuffle makes it a little different on what you focused on. I think there’s a lot of positives to come yet. Looking forward to what we can do going forward. I think Phoenix will be a good race track for us and I’m loving Atlanta and Homestead when we get that. I don’t feel like there’s any place I don’t want to go.”