Team Penske is starting to find their groove again. They started off great with Joey Logano’s Busch Light Clash victory in the LA Coliseum. A few weeks later, it was Austin Cindric’s heroic victory in the season opening Daytona 500 back in February. Ryan Blaney had 7 top 11’s in the first 10 races run including 4 top 5’s in his No. 12 Ford to go along with an All-Star victory in May at the Texas Motor Speedway. Logano also won at Darlington on Mothers Day as well as the inaugural race at the World Wide Technology Raceway a month later.
However, they’ve also had their fair share of dry spells too. Blaney had a span of 4 straight finishes of results no better than 12th. Logano still only has 2 top 5’s over the last 10 races, both being wins, and Cindric had 1 top 10 over the 14 race stretch following his Daytona triumph.
Now though, they’re starting to find speed again.
Cindric brought his No. 2 Ford home third in Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on a hot July day in Georgia. It was his 4th straight top 7 result as the rookie driver has moved all the way back up to 13th in points as a result.
What’s nice about this finish though is, they rebounded on an afternoon to where they struggled to start off with. He started 5th but was only 32nd at the end of the first 60 laps run. He was 14th at Lap 160 (end of Stage 2). 100 laps later, he was up 11 more spots for his 3rd top 5 of the season at the checkered flag.
“It came to life,” Cindric said on a day where he led 1 time for 7 laps. “We had to do a little CPR there early. We were struggling pretty bad. We were pretty loose to start the race and I’m just proud of the effort from the guys on the 2 car, being able to make the right adjustments and get us out of a hole there.
“We went from not being able to go full throttle by myself on the racetrack to being able to run close behind other guys wide-open, so I’m proud of that effort and proud of a top-three finish. I felt like we deserved to be up there by the end of the race after we established track position. It was a solid day. I wish we could have gotten the Quaker State Ford in victory lane in the Quaker State 400, but a top-three is pretty good.”
For Blaney, he just kept his string of good races going. After that rough 5 race stretch, he’s since finished no worse than 11th over the last 4 weeks including 3 races of 6th or better.
“It was a pretty good day,” Blaney said after earning his 7th top 5 of 2022. “We got back in traffic there a little bit and it was just hard to make it back up. You just can’t go anywhere. It gets two-wide and you’re just stuck and you can’t really go anywhere, unless you were the 9 and you were the fastest car out there by a mile. It was pretty easy for him to go wherever he wanted. That looked fun, but, I’m just happy to end up decent. This race is just like a survival race pretty much. That’s what you’re gonna get when you’re speedway racing on a mile-and-a-half, so luckily we were able to survive it and get out of here with an OK finish.”
Now, Blaney has his sights set on Elliott with him trailing his buddy by 47 for the points lead. If he can catch and pass him, Blaney has a shot at scoring the regular season championship which would net him a much needed 15 playoff points as well as a berth too.
See, without a win in 2022, Blaney holds the 14th playoff spot. He’s 131 points to the good with 7 races remaining in the regular season. The problem is though, if we get 4 more race winners and he’s not one of them, if he also doesn’t win the regular season title either, then he’d be on the outside looking in for a postseason berth even if he finishes 2nd in points.
That’s why despite this good run, Blaney wants to win.
Maybe that comes in Loudon though. Blaney has been quietly good there. He was ninth in 2017, seventh in 2018, fourth in 2019 but 20th in 2020 despite having a decent car. He was fifth a year ago. Logano was fourth in each of the last 2 years for his fifth straight Loudon top 10 and won at Gateway, a similar track, last month. Blaney was 4th in that race. Austin Cindric was 11th. For Phoenix, Blaney was 4th, Logano 8th and Cindric 24th. In Martinsville, they went 2nd (Logano), 4th (Blaney) and 11th (Cindric).