2 of the 3 Penske drivers advance to the Round of 8, their thoughts ahead and why they can possibly put 2 cars in the Final 4

All 3 Team Penske drivers made it to the Round of 12 in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. 2 of the 3 are still left with a shot at taking home this year’s title. The 1 left out was Austin Cindric who narrowly missed out and was eliminated in last Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“My guys did a great job all weekend,” a disappointed Cindric said. “We had a long shot but had a shot at it and kept ourselves in the game. Obviously, I had a great shot at the end. That last caution really stung because we would have been in without that last caution. Old tires against new tires. I wish we would have had probably some better track position and probably do a few things right here and there, but overall great to have a shot, great to be in the playoff picture. I learned a lot in my rookie season racing against a lot of the best. I was a bit of a bonehead on the last couple restarts just trying to make something happen with 30-lap worse tires than everybody around me, but, overall, great experience but just a little bit short. I would have liked to make it further. 

“That’s the way I look at it. I don’t look at this as an opportunity that everyone is going to have every year. If you’re in a good car with a good team it’s still not guaranteed. We had one guy make it in on points this year and that’s it.

“There’s past champions that missed out on the playoffs. I’ve got a guy standing next to me right here (Larson) that I think is one of the best drivers, if not the best driver in the field, and he’s not advancing on. This is not an easy format. It’s not that easy and it’s not an opportunity that’s guaranteed every year and I want to make the most of it.”

His two teammates though will try to take up at least 1 of the spots into the Championship 4. There’s a possibility it could be both of them advancing. That wouldn’t be unprecedented either. In 2020, Penske put two cars in the final round between Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

Penske has had a driver represented in the Championship 4 in 5 of the 8 years under this format. However, 2 of the last 3 years also didn’t feature a single one of them either. With 2 drivers alive with 3 races ahead, it would be a massive disappointment if they don’t at least advance 1 of their 2 drivers still in it.

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – MARCH 12: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Maytag Ford, prepares to qualify for the Ruoff Mortgage 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 12, 2022 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

For Ryan Blaney, it’s likely going to take a win. That’s something that he hasn’t done in the last 42 races with his last trip to victory lane coming in the regular season finale of a year ago at Daytona. In a year of so much parity, it’s ironic that the only winless driver in the playoffs is still alive with a shot at a title.

Blaney comes to the Round of 8 with a pair of top 4 finishes in the second round. That’s why his 26th place finish in Charlotte isn’t worrisome because he knew that his No. 12 Ford had more speed than the finish led on.

“It was nice to come in here with decent points and do a good job in the stages,” said Blaney. “It’s a shame because I thought our car was super fast, but when you’re stage points racing you just bury yourself and you’re just trying to stay out of everyone else’s junk there at the end. We still ended up getting in other people’s junk because people are running you over and spinning you out, but luckily, we had a good points cushion. Got run over by people (on the last restart) just like Indy.  I don’t know who ran me over, but put them on the list I guess.

“We did the stage game in the first stage and got our points, but then you just bury yourself the rest of the day, and it was so hard to pass today. You kind of bury yourself right at the beginning and it doesn’t matter how fast your car is, you can’t come from 25th and drive up through there.

“We did a good job. We had a plan coming into this weekend with where we were on points and stuck with that plan. It’s a shame it has to be that way, but on the other side you just try to be as smart as you can.”

That’s exactly what happened to his teammate Joey Logano in Talladega. They went for stage points in the opening stage, then elected to ride around for the second stage in order to avoid the big one. They felt like being in the back then and for most of the final stage would put them in a prime position to escape any carnage from the impending big crash and allow them a top 5 finish.

Instead, the wreck never occurred and Logano was left in 27th at the end. He was only 18th on Sunday in Charlotte.

Logano is backing his way into the Round of 8 with 4 finishes of 17th or worse in the 6 postseason races. However, he and Blaney are both excited for what’s ahead because they each feel like they can win this round to get into the final four.

“I feel good. I like Vegas,” Logano said. “We had a pretty good test at Miami and Martinsville has been one of Penske’s best racetracks as of late, so I feel pretty good about it.”

Kansas could be difficult for both but Homestead and Martinsville may be their best shot.

While Logano was 27th and 25th the last two years in Miami, he also has five straight top six finishes prior and won at Darlington this past May too. Martinsville may be his time to shine. Logano has pair of top five finishes came at Martinsville in 2020 and again this past spring (2nd) to go along with 8 top 10’s in his last 9 tries. The 2nd seed has made the Championship 4 in 3 of the last 4 years and Logano has made the final round personally in every even numbered year (2014, 2016, 2018, 2020…2022?)

What about Blaney?

He has eight Top-7 finishes in his last 11 starts in Vegas. He was 12th and 9th respectively in Kansas this year. For Homestead, Blaney finished third in 2021 and has been good at the South Florida race track overall in both the Xfinity and Truck Series races too. Then, it’s to Martinsville to where he was 4th in the spring race while also coming home runner-up in both races in 2020. On top of that, Blaney was fourth and fifth respectively there in 2019. Blaney, has 6 top fives in his last 9 tries on the Virginia paperclip overall. While he was 11th in both races last year, he did sweep both stages in the spring race.

“I’m looking forward to getting to Vegas,” he said. “I think we’ve come a long way on our mile-and-a-half program. Between Vegas and Homestead and obviously Martinsville is a strong place for us in the spring, so I’m looking forward to it.  We’ve just got to put together good races with no mistakes and keep doing what we’ve been doing. I’d really like to win and not have to worry about the next two weeks, but I think this team has been doing a great job. They’re really focused right now.”

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