I’m was watching Ryan Blaney in Sunday’s United Rentals Work United 500 to see if he can get his season on the right track in Phoenix. Kyle Petty called him out earlier this week and it couldn’t be a more perfect spot to stuff it back in Petty’s face that Blaney is here to stay and can truly contend for championships.
The Team Penske driver entered the fourth race of the season 15th in points after finishes of just 8th, 26th and 13th respectively. However, Phoenix was a spot that I felt like he could contend in and make a statement back.
Unfortunately, didn’t secure the victory. His buddy William Byron did. However, Blaney had the best view of Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet crossing the finish line as he was only .330-seconds behind for his second straight runner-up in the Arizona desert.
“The last restart I thought — I got to the bottom of those guys into Turn 2 — that I was in a good spot for Turn 3. I think the No. 45 kind of helped the No. 24 – got him a push down the back and got him a good spot,” he said after scoring his 10th career Phoenix top 10 finish in 15 tries. “He had an advantage going in there. Close, but I wasn’t really close enough to the No. 24 going into Turn 3 to do anything.
“Overall a pretty good day. We got a lot better all day. We finished a little better than I thought we’d run. So, that was positive.”
Blaney, has eight Top-10 finishes in his last nine starts at Phoenix including a pair of third place runs in 2019, 10th and sixth in 2020, 10th (35 laps led) and fourth in 2021 and fourth and second respectively last year. He led 143 laps and won Stage 2 in the spring race of a year ago but pit road on his final stop kept him from victory lane. Last Fall, he led another 109 laps and was runner-up to teammate Joey Logano.
He started eighth on Sunday after having the second fastest car in practice on Friday in not just single car speed but also the 10-lap averages as well.
The thing is, Ford’s lost their advantage here from last season.
They led 89% (558-for-624 laps led) of the overall laps led here in 2022, including 248 of the 312 in the spring race and 310 of the 312 in the Fall.
The thing is, last week in Las Vegas, they were nowhere to be found up front either. They had just two cars in the top 12 at the end (Austin Cindric 6th, Kevin Harvick 9th). Brad Keselowski (5 laps led) was their only lap leader.
They led only 47 total laps this time around.
Still, Blaney did make a statement that he’s not going anywhere.
The knock against him is the fact that he’s won just 7 times in 274 starts. Petty compared him to someone like Kasey Kahne who had a ton of hype, even landed with Hendrick Motorsports, but flamed out. Kahne finished his Cup career with 18 wins in 529 starts.
Blaney has made it to the Round of 8 in three of the last four years, but he also has no Championship 4 appearances and outside of 2021, he’s never won more than one race in a single season. He went winless in 2022 and still hasn’t won this season with that drought jumping to 49 races. 4 of his 7 wins were on “wildcard” type tracks in Daytona, Talladega and the Charlotte ROVAL.
So, what Petty said is relevant. Blaney does his best work when the pressure is off. He’s had top five performances the last two Championship races at Phoenix when he’s not vying for a title. When he is, he spun while running third in Las Vegas last Fall. A week later, he downshifted instead of upshifted in Homestead, while also running third, to make the task really large to make it to the final round.
In 2021, his Round of 8 finishes were 6th, 37th and 11th respectively. He was 4th in Phoenix.
In 2020, he was eliminated in the first round of the postseason. He had 6 top 7’s in the 7 races after.
A devils advocate to this is the fact that Blaney’s pit crew hasn’t held up to their end of the bargain either. More times than not, Blaney comes to pit road and loses spots. It’s hard to think of times to when they consistently gain him spots on pit road.
So this is truly a team effort and one that the entire 12 team was going to make a statement one way or the other on Sunday afternoon. Fail to perform, then it makes Petty’s statement even more relevant. Go out and win, well it makes Blaney’s case far better…
Second does too.