Ryan Blaney feels at home at Pocono Raceway

NASCAR Pocono Auto Racing
Ryan Blaney answers questions during a media availability before a practice session for Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 auto race, Friday, June 1, 2018, in Long Pond, Pa.

LONG POND, Pa. – Although Ryan Blaney is from Ohio, it’s not a stretch to say he cut his racing baby teeth at Pocono Raceway.

The son of former NASCAR driver Dave Blaney, who did not retire from NASCAR racing until 2016, Ryan Blaney spent weekends during his youth watching his dad compete at Pocono, among other tracks.

With his grandfather, Lou, having won 600 races in modified and sprint cars and been a part-owner and operator of Sharon Speedway in Hartford Township, Ohio, Ryan was destined to find his way into a race car.

It began at Pocono Speedway.

“I’ve always enjoyed this place,” Blaney said. “I enjoyed coming here to watch my dad race. I made my first-ever start in a race car at the dirt track out there. So it’s been special to me.

“There used to be a small Pocono with MRO [Motor Racing Outreach] in the infield over there [outside Turn 3). I have a lot of memories about this place.”

His best memory came last year when Blaney, 24, won the Pocono 400 for his first victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Blaney passed Kyle Busch with 10 laps to go and then held off Kevin Harvick for the victory.

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Ryan Blaney in action during the NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 auto race, Sunday, June 11, 2017, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

It might take a similar effort on Sunday if Blaney wants to repeat as champion and qualify for an automatic spot into the Monster Energy Playoffs.

Harvick has five wins in the first 13 races of the season and Busch has four.

Blaney, however, won the pole position for the start at the Tricky Triangle. He ran the 2 ½-mile track in 50.87 seconds (176.897 mph) to claim his second Busch Pole Award of the season.

Harvick will be next to him in the front row. Busch is in Row 3 with his older brother, Kurt. Reigning Monster Energy champion Martin Truex Jr. qualified fourth in the 38-car field.

“I feel like we have a pretty good line of communication with where we need to be from practice to qualifying  to the race,” Blaney said. “I feel very comfortable, and the team feels very confident, and that’s always a good combination.”

Busch won the 250-mile Xfinity Series race on Saturday. Cars in the Pocono 400, however, won’t have the restrictor plate, spoiler and air duct rules that were intentionally designed to slow the cars on Saturday.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Pocono 400

Place: Pocono Speedway

The date: Sunday, June 3

The time: 2 p.m.

TV: Fox Sports 2; coverage begins at 1:30 p.m.

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400 miles (400 laps). Playoff Bonus Points Stage 1 ends on Lap 50; Stage 2 ends on Lap 100; final stage ends on Lap 160