It has been a season of inconsistency for Ryan Blaney.
On one hand, the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford has run well enough to win. Through 20 races, he has led 362 laps and posted six top-five and eight top-10 finishes. Ranked 11th in the standings, he is firmly entrenched in a playoff position — 67 points ahead of Clint Bowyer in the 16th-place cutoff spot and 84 points ahead of 17th-place Jimmie Johnson.
However, Blaney has seven finishes outside the top 20, including four of 31st or worse.
When the NASCAR Cup Series made its first visit of the season to Pocono Raceway in June, Blaney placed 12th. That was his sixth straight finish outside the top 10.
“You always go through rough patches throughout the season and we went through a little bit of a rough patch a month ago or so,” Blaney said. “Things not working out and we just didn’t run good. Hopefully we’re out of that funk and we’re able to run where we should be.”
Since that finish at Pocono, Blaney has shown signs of breaking out. He has four top-10 finishes in the last six races, including a fourth-place effort at New Hampshire on Sunday.
Blaney looks to ride that momentum into Pocono this weekend as NASCAR returns to the 2.5-mile triangular track in Long Pond for the Gander RV 400.
“We’re capable of winning races. It’s just a matter of putting yourself in the right spot to do it,” Blaney said. “Our whole group is very capable, we have such great people. It’s just a matter of not making mistakes on my end, not making mistakes on other ends of the deal. It takes everyone working together. If we can do that, it’s just a matter of everything coming together at the right time.”
Making Blaney’s season even more frustrating is watching the success of his Penske teammates. Brad Keselowski has three wins in the No. 2 Ford (Atlanta, Martinsville, Kansas) and Joey Logano has two victories in the No. 22 Ford (Las Vegas, Michigan).
“You want to be winning with those guys, for sure. You don’t want to be the low guy on the totem pole at the team,” Blaney said.
“At the same time, you can’t think that way. You can’t get frustrated that you’re not winning races like those guys. You have to focus on how to (win races). It kind of gets into your head for a second, but you have to flush it out and say, ‘How can we get there? How can we put ourselves in position to win these races.’ It’s just changing your mindset. Fixing the problem instead of dwelling on the problem. Keep that vibe and focus on your own team. All I care about is my 12 group and trying to do well for those guys.”
Pocono was the site of Blaney’s first career Cup Series victory in June 2017. His other win came on the Charlotte Roval last October.
This will be the second race at Pocono with NASCAR’s new aero package, so Blaney believes teams will have a better understanding of their cars.
Adding to the intrigue, however, is the fact the track applied the traction compound known as PJ1 in all three corners in an attempt to create more lanes of racing.
“I thought our car was pretty good (in June),” Blaney said. “Honestly, that was probably the worst race I’ve ever had on restarts. I couldn’t figure out how to get in the right lane. I’d feel like I’d lose five or six spots every restart and then have to pass everybody back. That part I didn’t have the smoothest day. I thought the restarts there were pretty wild — a lot more wild than usual and that’s saying a lot.”
The Gander RV 400 weekend at Pocono Raceway starts Friday with practice and qualifying for the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Trucks Series race, the Gander RV 150, and the running of the ARCA Series FORTS USA 150.
On Saturday, there is Cup Series practice and qualifying as well as the Gander RV 150 race. The Gander RV 400 is scheduled to get the green flag Sunday at 3 p.m.