Ryan Blaney finally got over the hump last Sunday at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Team Penske driver notched his first top 10 of the season with a fifth place result in the Pennzoil 400. It was big in the sense that Blaney was reeling after three races run. He was marred deep in the NASCAR Cup Series points standings and moving further and further back.
With who’s won races so far this season and how the wildcard spots are legitimately going to come down to some big named drivers/teams, Blaney couldn’t afford to keep digging a deeper and deeper hole. That’s why it was so crucial of him to score a pair of top five finishes in each stage as well as scoring a top five in his No. 12 Ford in the end. That has boosted him all the way up to 15th in the standings, as he currently sits +3 in the playoff standings heading to Sunday’s Instacart 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN) as the Phoenix Raceway.
Now, can Blaney hold onto this newly found momentum?
“This is really your 1st short track race,” Blaney said on Phoenix this weekend. “The only other 750 horsepower track we’ve had this year was the Daytona road course and that was drastically different. We’ll get a good feel on where your team stacks up. Every team in the offseason tries to improve from last year and the thing is, you don’t know where you’re going to stack up. That’s kind of the beauty of racing is that you don’t know where you stack up until you unload on a certain weekend.
“That’s a big thing on where you think you’ll be. If you’re behind the eight ball leaving Phoenix, you know you’ll have a lot of work to do.
“I’m really looking forward to Phoenix. We were really good there in the race in November last year and not being in the Championship 4, we ran 5th or 6th all day long. Our short track program we put a lot of emphasis on as a whole group for Team Penske so I’m looking forward to that. Hopefully we can build on our solid run there last year.”
Phoenix, has been a track that he’s recently exceled on though. He finished third in both races in 2019 and was sixth in last year’s playoff race. He did come home 37th last spring, but that’s only because he was caught up in an early race crash in Turn 3.
Blaney, rolls off from the eighth starting position on Sunday and is looking for earn at the very least another top 10 to keep inching his way forward. The only thing is, how much can you take away from the March Phoenix race and apply it to November?
Blaney, says it’s really all just dependent on weather.
“It’s all temperature driven,” he told me. “I feel like this time of year in Phoenix and then in the Fall, it’s almost the same temperature. We’re getting there early enough in the year where it’s still fairly cool. I feel like in the Fall it’s the same way. It would be different if we were going there in August then we went back there for the championship race. It would be a different race track. But, it being the same temperature I think it pretty much puts on the same show.
“Then, with having multiple races there, I think with the Xfinity guys having this weekend and then we run after them, having 1 or 2 more races before ours in November that it rubbers the track in a little bit more so the only difference is we get to that VHT maybe a little bit quicker on Sunday’s race in the Fall than we would this weekend because the bottom is rubbered in a little bit more. I base tracks on temperatures and I think it’s going to be pretty similar.”
Speaking of that, how important is Sunday’s race in terms of this being a precursor then for the Championship 4? Do you spend a lot of time preparing for November just in case?
“I’ll tell you right now, every single team is really focused on Phoenix this weekend just because if you do make it to the Championship 4 then you need a pretty good notebook on going back there,” he said. “I think it’s pretty neat that you go to the championship track earlier in the year because you can kind of focus on it.”