It’s hard to believe, but the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season will be the sixth for Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney. The second generation driver though feels like the time is now to seriously contend for his first Championship 4 appearance.
See, Blaney had to watch as both of his teammates fought for the championship at the Phoenix Raceway last November. He was unfortunately eliminated from the playoffs in the opening round as a one-and-done.
That’s not good enough for Team Penske. He knows that. Blaney, knows that when you drive for a team with the caliber of Penske, deep playoff runs are the necessity.
So, in Year No. 6, is this is the one that Blaney gets over the edge?
Blaney, 27, has been close to breaking through for the last few years now. After a win at Pocono in his second year in the series in 2017, it was the moment that elevated him off the ground. We all knew Blaney was a special driver with the capabilities of being a star in the sport one day. That 2017 season was just the start. A Round of 8 berth in the playoffs showed this was the start of something special.
What would happen once he moved over to Penske for 2018?
He won in 2018, but it wasn’t until the 29th race of the year in a wild finish on the Charlotte ROVAL. He actually finished one spot (10th) worst in the standings that season than he did a year prior when he was with the Wood Brothers. Still, he made it to the Round of 12 which isn’t bad.
He also doubled his top fives from 4 to 8, more than doubled his laps led from 301 to 660 and had 16 top 10’s when he had 14 in 2017. For an organization starting off from scratch with bringing out a third car again, it showed his promise still.
2019 was going to then see a breakout then, right? Unfortunately, it looked a lot like 2018. Yet another year with just one win. But, that one win came in the playoffs which helped push him to the Round of 8. He did have 11 top five’s and 18 top 10’s, which were both career highs for a single season. His laps led dipped to 422 but he did finish a career best seventh in the final standings and made it to the Round of 8 for the second time in three years.
Momentum was there. 2020 started off great. Blaney, looked like a legitimate championship contender. He started off with a runner-up in the season opening Daytona 500. It was the second closest Daytona 500 finish ever. The next two races saw some end of the race bad luck, but he still should have finished second in each.
Then, the pandemic hit after Phoenix. Still, the first races back went well. He had six top four finishes in the first nine races including a win at Talladega in June. Unfortunately, the bottom dropped out after.
Blaney, would score just one top five finishes and only four top 10’s over his next 16 starts on the year. That’s why he was a first round exit in the playoffs. He showed fight though at the end of the year still with six top seven results over the final seven weeks.
Now, the momentum is back. His last four years he’s finished Round of 8, Round of 12, Round of 8, Round of 16 in the playoffs. Can Blaney get to the Championship 4? Can he get over that proverbial hump?
He’s won four times in his career, all once each season the last four years. Can he get multiple trips to victory lane in 2021?
They’re certainly ready for it. The talent is there inside of the car, on pit road and back at the shop. This is a championship caliber team. Can they put all the pieces together?
It could start off with a Daytona 500 win though too. Blaney, is arguably one of the better superspeedway racers in the game today.
His two Daytona finishes a year ago were second and sixth respectively. His last two wins were at Talladega. He’s also got three top seven finishes, two of those being runner-ups at that, in his last four Daytona 500 starts.
With how good of a superspeedway package Ford and Team Penske typically brings, could the stars be aligning for a win in the Great American Race for Blaney. Would that be the moment that he needs to propel him to the next level?
He’s got a fresh new contract to operate on now and the time is now.