Ryan Blaney poses with his trophy after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race Saturday at Kentucky Motor Speedway in Sparta, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
SPARTA, Ky. — Rookie Ryan Blaney earned his first Nationwide Series victory and another win for Penske Racing’s No. 22 Ford, holding off Austin Dillon and surviving several late cautions to win Saturday night’s 300-mile race at Kentucky Speedway.
Blaney, who drives for Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski in the Camping World Truck Series, used his second start in the Mustang to claim the car’s 10th victory of 2013 and a season sweep at Kentucky. Keselowski drove the car to victory in June.
Blaney’s win included tense moments over the final 40 laps, from beating Dillon off pit road with a two-tire stop on lap 166 to reclaiming the lead from Dillon after losing it on the restart. More tests followed, including a near-brush with teammate Sam Hornish Jr.’s loose Ford and one final restart.
Matt Crafton was third, Hornish fourth and rookie Alex Bowman fifth in a Toyota.
Dillon shaved two points off Hornish’s series lead and trails by just 15 with six races remaining.
Getting closer to Blaney was out of the question for Dillon and just about anyone in contention. Hornish gave it a shot late in the race before that late wiggle left him settling for his 21st top-five finish of the season.
Dillon had hope on several restarts, only to let the son of NASCAR veteran Dave Blaney quickly snatch it away on several late restarts. The final one typified the futility: Blaney blasted out on lap 191 to open up a three car-length lead and didn’t look back.
Hornish led 65 laps after starting on the pole, while Dillon led 32.
Beating the No. 22 has been tough for everybody this season. Four other drivers have reached victory lane in it this season, including Keselowski, who’s racing in this weekend’s Cup series race in Loudon, N.H.
Blaney, who won a Trucks race in Iowa last year, became the fifth in just his 15th start. Crew chief Jeremy Bullins kept him calm and focused over the radio, and the only direction he ever really needed was to victory lane after taking the checkered flag.
The points race meanwhile saw little change.
Hornish entered Saturday looking to widen his edge on Dillon, who came into the series’ final stand-alone race seeking his third Nationwide victory in four Kentucky starts. He helped his prospects Saturday afternoon by clocking 179.235 mph to claim his third pole this season and leading Penske’s front-row sweep with Blaney (178.159) taking the outside spot. Dillon was close by in the third spot with a run of 178.042 mph in his Chevy.
With Cup regulars racing this weekend in New Hampshire, 41 drivers had the track to themselves, and Nationwide contenders did their best to exploit the freedom. Hornish and Dillon in particular looked forward to racing all-out here, with the points leader especially eager to follow up June’s ninth-place run.
After the start was delayed briefly to allow track dryers to blow away some weepers, Hornish went about proving how good his Mustang was. He led the first 65 laps before his teammate won the race off pit road during the third caution and led on the restart.
Dillon was second and needed only a lap to move in front — on lap 68 — and add another chapter to his impressive Kentucky resume. He led the next 32 laps before Blaney took the first of two leads to establish himself as the best driver in the best car.