Ryan Blaney

Ryan Blaney is the only driver in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs without a win in the 2022 season, but he’s not letting that deter one of the best seasons of his career.

Blaney finished third in the regular-season standings, which is the highest position he’s been in at the end of the regular season. He came very close to winning the Daytona 500 and technically has one win, but it was in this summer’s All-Star Race. That doesn’t count for any Playoff points, but it did pay $1 million.

The guy can win races; he has seven career wins, and he’s currently on a streak where he’s won at least one race in every season since 2017. He just needs to find that spark that brings it all together.

Unfortunately, despite Blaney’s amazingly consistent season, he almost failed to qualify for the Playoffs due to there being so many different winners. At Daytona, it was down to Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. for the final spots. If there wasn’t a new winner, both drivers would advance without a win. If there was, just one would. It would’ve been none if Kurt Busch didn’t give up his medical waiver as he currently recovers from suffering a concussion.

Blaney was involved in a crash on Lap 32 that honestly should’ve put him out of the race, but his crew worked hard to keep him in. His car was so slow that he couldn’t keep up in the draft. But he held on and made laps, as his only hope was for enough people to fall out of the race, and he could pass them for the points.

Then when Truex’s car was damaged in a crash on Lap 103, it helped Blaney but Truex was able to stay ahead. It wasn’t until the Turn 1 rainstorm on Lap 139 that caused virtually the entire field to crash that Blaney got his chance. He had to wait over three hours in a rain/lightning delay, but Blaney passed everyone who couldn’t continue while Truex was struggling to stay with the leaders. Austin Dillon won, so only one of them could make it. And while Truex fought hard to finish eighth in a torn-up race car, Blaney finished 15th, six laps down, and beat Truex by three points.

Blaney talked to The Comeback about his season and his outlook on the Playoffs that start this Sunday night in Darlington.

Phillip Bupp: First off, congratulations on your recent contract extension. Team Penske revealed it’s a long-term extension. How does it feel to have that kind of job security while going into your second decade with the organization?

Ryan Blaney: Yeah, it was nice to definitely get that deal done. They’ve been great to me for the past 10 years and looking forward to continue with them for a long time. And I owe them a lot. They really gave me a shot in NASCAR and… It’s definitely been a pleasure to be able to race for them, win for them, get to know Mr. Penske and everybody. So it’s great. And looking forward to the future.

PB: And with Joey [Logano] also signing an extension and Austin [Cindric] staying on, do you think that will help all three of you in terms of strengthening your teamwork and partnership on the track?

Blaney: Yeah, I think so. Think that’s really important for drivers to really get comfortable with each other because it’s healthy for drivers to talk and kind of share information. I mean, that’s what makes you a strong team. I mean, what’s the point of having a three-car team if no one communicates with each other? So Joey and I have worked together for a long time. Austin just coming into the Cup Series, he’s done a great job and I feel like we’re really strong as a team because everyone’s communicating and everyone’s on that. Even if we’re not on the same page, you still get everyone’s opinion on stuff. So, that’s great that Joey and I were able to re-sign and Austin, I’m sure he’s going to be here for a long time too. So I think we have really good camaraderie in there right now. It’s just, you got to keep building on it every single week.

PB: Going back to last week, what was your stress level like throughout the day?

Blaney: Yeah, we understood our position going into that race. And then when we got tore up there early, it’s just a matter of trying to stay in the game all day and try to just finish the race and fix your damage the best you can. You’re not going to be… You understand, you’re not going to be in contention to try to win the race because you’re really tore up and laps down, but you just got to stay in it because you never know what can happen. So they did a great job of fixing what they could and just keeping us rolling and was able to run to the end. And so definitely a very long day, not what you expect, but I feel like we did a good job at adapting and overcoming some issues. And I feel like that’s something that’s really good for a team, if you can have a group of people that can really adjust to the situation. And I feel like we did a great job at that and was able to end up making the Playoffs there at the end.

PB: Yeah. It was really something that I credit your team on because I’ll admit when I saw the damage, I didn’t think you had a chance to continue, but they really stepped up and got you still in the game.

Blaney: Oh, for sure. Yeah, they did an amazing job and that’s why we do it. That’s why I stay in the game. So those guys had no quit in them and that’s what it takes.

PB: With that being said, though, the stress didn’t really subside throughout the year. You were in competition for wins but without that win, I have to imagine the stress and the pressure was something that was just kind of there throughout the year.

Blaney: Yeah. I mean, you always want to win and I thought we had a good shot to win a few times and just never… They didn’t really come together. So, I try not to sit around and stress about that stuff. ‘Oh, we haven’t won yet.’ Stuff like that. You just try to go do the best you can every single week and understand that you got a group that can do it, it’s just a matter of putting all the pieces together. So, that’s something that I thought we focused on really well throughout the year, is just trying to run well and run up front. And we were top three in points really the whole year. And it was a good year, just the wins haven’t come to make it a great year. So, hopefully, we can rattle off a few in the Playoffs. That would be obviously the best time to do them but no, we just stuck in it. So, I think we got a good group that can go out there and make a run. You just got to put everything together.

PB: Right. As you said, you were third in points. And I think you’re the sixth seed, seventh seed, somewhere around there. So, it’s not like you had a bad year. You had a pretty good year.

Blaney: Yeah, it’s been a good year. It’s just, like I said, the wins haven’t come to make it a great year, but we did a great job of staying up there in the points, winning stages. And it’s put us in a pretty decent spot as far as bonus points to start the Playoffs. So, you just hope to keep building on that stuff.

PB: Now, I know it’s ideal to get the win, and the earlier the better, but does the pressure of not knowing you’re going to be in the Playoffs help you? Just in terms of, your team has pretty much been in “Playoff mode” just to try to get in.

Blaney: Yeah. I mean, you obviously like to be locked in early. Last year, we won Atlanta in March and locked ourselves in really early. So, that’s nice to know that, ‘Okay, hey, we’re in the playoffs now.’ It doesn’t really change my mindset. Honestly, if you won early in the year or not, you’re still trying to win every single weekend and then do the best you can. So, it is a little bit different though, you start seeing all the new winners as you get going through the year. And you’re like, “Okay, well hopefully ours come here soon and we can lock ourselves in and not have to worry about this.” But I don’t think we really stressed ourselves out too much about it.

I knew that everyone understood that we had a really good team, and I think we had a good shot at making it and just squeak in by our skin of our teeth. But yeah, it’s definitely not ideal. It was a lot easier last year when you go out there and win in March, not have to worry about that. It was just a little bit off your shoulders. But this team did a good job of handling that pressure.

PB: For sure. Looking forward to the playoff schedule itself. You’ve had some good finishes at a bunch of Playoff tracks over the years. If you were to pick one race from each round that you feel is your best chance to win, which would they be?

Blaney: Yeah. I think, you go to these tracks, whether it’s through the regular season or you look back on them from the Playoffs last year. And I feel like we’ve had a really good car in the spring at Darlington, we just kind of had pit road trouble. I thought we were really fast. And then we ended up getting tore up. So Darlington we run really good at. Bristol Night Race, I’m excited for. We had a great run in Vegas earlier this year. Miami is somewhere I really look forward to going. Texas, won the All-Star Race. And then if we could make it to Phoenix, we had a really strong car at Phoenix.

So I really look at all the tracks in the Playoffs and I enjoy a lot of them. I think every driver will tell you that. You don’t really try to pick one out that you’re like, ‘Man, I’m not really looking forward to going to this one,’ because then you’re kind of already losing your battle. But yeah, there are tracks I think you run really good at and you really look forward to going to, but I look forward to all of them just because I enjoy all of them. And that’s the mindset you have to have.

PB: That’s a good mindset. This is your sixth time in the Playoffs and you’ve qualified every year since 2017. Throughout the years, have you approached the playoffs any differently or has it been pretty similar throughout?

Blaney: Yeah. I feel like your mindset changes a little bit as you get into the Playoffs more and more, year after year. Your first year in the Playoffs, you’re really excited and you’re kind of nervous, but as you do it more, you understand kind of what it’s about, you race a little bit differently. You have to be pretty patient. So I think that’s just getting older and then getting more experience with things, you get more comfortable with it. So, yeah, I think it definitely changes, but it’s still exciting to be a part of and you understand you’re going to have to race hard at times, and then there are times where you have to be smart. But yeah, I think you just get more used to it as you’ve been a part of it more.

PB: Now, the highest you’ve placed is the Round of 8, four times. Other than the obvious answer is to win, what’s it going to take to get over that hump to be in the Championship 4 at Phoenix?

Blaney: Just trying to be consistent. Like you said, obviously winning is the best way to get in, but I feel like we had a great shot to make Phoenix last year. And then we got tore up in the second race of the Round of 8 and then just didn’t perform. At Martinsville, I got knocked out. So, you just try to string together, good races and good finishes, and it’s just one of those things where you have to be consistent. You can’t really afford any bad days. You have to get your stage points. You have to run up front. And I think this team showed that throughout the year. It’s just a matter of doing the same thing and even stepping up, really the whole rounds. But if you manage to make it to the Round of 8, that’s when it gets super tough and then the competition is very intense and you just have to make sure that you’re not having any bad days, no mistakes, no mistakes as a driver, no mistakes on pit road, and just try to keep yourself in it.

PB: All right. I’ll get you out of here on a couple more questions. Other than yourself, who do you think is the toughest to beat for the Championship?

Blaney: I mean, I think you look at Chase [Elliott]. I mean, they’ve had a great year, won the most races in the regular season. No. 1 seed in the Playoffs, has a ton of bonus points. He’ll be pretty tough, that’s for sure. That team’s just shown it throughout the year, how consistent they can be and their speed. So I’d say he’s going to be a really tough one.

PB: Now, just hypothetical, let’s say it’s November, you’ve made it to the Championship 4, which three drivers would you most like to see compete with you for a championship? And which three drivers would you least like to see compete with you for a championship?

Blaney: [Laughter] Oh, I don’t really care. I don’t really care who the other three are, you race who you race and it really doesn’t change my mindset no matter what, no matter who’s in… Who else is with you in the final four, they’re competitors. Yeah, so I don’t really care as long as we’re there, I’ll race anybody.

PB: All right. I’ll let you off to hook on that one [laughter]. Thank you for talking to us and good luck with the rest of the season.

Blaney: Yeah, appreciate it. Thank you.

About Phillip Bupp

News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing, highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them.

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