Bigger battle looms for Blaney, Herring
September 20, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
SPARTA, Ky. -- Ryan Blaney and Drew Herring are accustomed to competing against each other. Their battles typically involve hooking up the Xbox and playing a racing game when at home in North Carolina.
A different type of competition awaits the two this weekend, and it has much higher stakes -- the massive silver trophy given to the winner of the owners' championship at the end of the season.
Yes, Blaney and Herring have been given the keys -- well, ignition switches – to two of the best rides in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in the midst of a massive owners' points battle. Herring will drive the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in Saturday's Kentucky 300 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS), and Blaney will drive the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford.
Roger Penske's 22 car leads Gibbs' 54 in the owner standings by 13 points. The third-place car, the No. 12 also owned by Penske, is 116 points off the pace, making this a true two-car race.
"It's a good feeling, that's for sure," Herring said. "It's a heck of an opportunity. There's a lot of pressure and different things that come along with being in this car. Kyle (Busch) and (crew chief) Adam (Stevens) and those guys have already won 10 times this year, and have eight poles. It's pretty phenomenal statistics."
What makes Saturday night's race here in the foothills of Kentucky unique is that the points posturing has been highlighted this season by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stars Kyle Busch (10 wins in the No. 54), along with Brad Keselowski (five wins in the No. 22) and Joey Logano (two wins in the No. 22). AJ Allmendinger, in two starts in the No. 22, also has two victories as these vehicles have combined for 19 wins in 26 Nationwide Series races.
Herring has driven the No. 54 three times this year, and won the Coors Light Pole Award at Iowa Speedway. He finished sixth and 11th in the two Iowa races, and 36th at Bristol after being involved in a wreck.
Blaney has less experience in the No. 22 Discount Tire Ford. He has one race under his belt, a ninth-place finish at Iowa in an event that was delayed one day due to rain. Blaney was brought to the track late as a substitute driver for Logano, who was scheduled to drive the No. 22 before the weather pushed the race back.
"This is my first full start," Blaney said Friday. "Iowa was kind of like a half start. I loved running this car last year, and its won nine races this year with three different drivers. Whenever you come into a new series, it's fun. I've raced most of these guys before and kind of have an idea of how to race each person."
The two drivers, along with Darrell Wallace Jr., played a round of golf Thursday before parting to their respective teams for travel. The tone of the outing was light. Both knew the more serious stuff would start soon enough.
"We went golfing, and it was pretty comical. Ryan and Bubba made me feel like a pretty good golfer," Herring said with a laugh. "We talked a lot of smack back and forth, good-natured stuff. We both understand our roles, though. When we come to the race track this weekend, we're friends. But at the same time, we're competitors and we both want to beat each other."
The importance of performing well is something each driver understands innately, which is why they haven't had to discuss this weekend's implications with each other.
To that note, neither driver has gotten any pressure from their car's owner, either. Then again, they don't need to.
"We obviously know what's at stake," Blaney said. "This is a really good opportunity for Drew. At the same time, I'm really happy that Penske Racing is putting me in the 22. He's a really good driver and we're going to race each other pretty hard."