When ranking the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff field, you start with ‘The Big 3’ of Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski, but don’t overlook Ryan Blaney over the next 10 weeks.
The Team Penske No. 12 team has just one win this season, at Talladega in June, but a season full of what ifs and what should have been.
Blaney was easily the most competitive driver during the first month of the season prior to the coronavirus shutdown and easily could have won three of the first four races.
He led the Daytona 500 on the final lap before the crash with Ryan Newman delivered the win to Hamlin. He was leading the next weekend at Las Vegas when a decision to pit after a late caution denied him a sure win. He was closing on leader Alex Bowman at Auto Club Speedway the week after that when he suffered a tire failure in the closing laps.
He restarted on the second row at Kentucky for a green-white-checkered on July 12 and was four-wide for the lead taking the white flag when he hit a drainage bump that eliminated him from contention. The week after that, he led the most laps at Texas but was trapped a lap down when the caution came out after a pit stop, and completely unraveled the runner order.
He’s led the seventh most laps this season, and in 18 of 26 overall races, but has only broken through once due to a variety of circumstances.
As a result, Blaney believes the Team Penske No. 12 will have a shot to make it to Phoenix if they avoid costly mistakes and bad luck.
“I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘No, we don’t have the speed’ because I’d like to think so,” Blaney said. “There are some races I feel like we’ve been better than (Harvick and Hamlin) and brought it to them and other races they’ve had really good cars and they’ve obviously shown up like they have all year.
“They’ve done a great job. Those two teams and drivers are doing really good right now and they’re super-strong. You go to the racetrack every week knowing those guys are going be strong, but the best you can do is just worry about your own team, worry about what you need to do as a driver to do the best that you can and figure out what you need to do with your race cars to be as competitive as possible.”
While Blaney has pointed to bad luck throughout the year, once famously asking ‘what in the hell do we need to do to have things go our way,’ Blaney also pointed to several things he and his team could do better over the final 10 races.
“There are some you can control, so I think it’s half and half,” Blaney said. “You’re going have rough weekends where things don’t go your way and you’re going have rough weekends where I mess up, whether you damage your car, or you don’t ask for the right things.
“There were sometimes where calls can go the wrong way — pit calls and things like that, but that’s just part of it. We just need to learn from those things, so I think to answer the question, I feel like it’s about half and half.
“But I can’t sit here and complain about unlucky unfortunate situations because everybody has those, it’s just a matter of having fewer than others, I guess. The best that I can do is do my best and our team do our best and whatever else happens after that happens.”
RYAN BLANEY HOPES BAD LUCK IS BEHIND HIM AS NASCAR PLAYOFFS BEGIN