Ryan Blaney is likely to make the playoffs at a point, but with the regular season coming to a close, a win will certainly make it easier to sleep at night. The odds of having 16 different regular season winners are small, but not zero.
It’s not unheard of for a Penske driver to win his first race this late in the year. Blaney was eliminated in points in 2018 and 2019. The first wins came with 35 and 31 respectively.
Last year, Blaney earned his playing spot early in Atlanta. His other wins that year were in the final two races of the regular season.
And don’t forget that he is the winner of this year’s All-Star Game.
Don’t write it off until the searchers leave Daytona.
Blaney in 2022
As the graph below shows, Blaney’s 2022 season was up and down.
He recorded second and fifth place finishes and 10 top-10 finishes in seven races. Those seven P2-P5 finishes are just one less than in 2021.
In addition to the finish, Blaney is having an impressive season. Here are some of the main ones:
Blaney ties Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell for most poles with three. He ranks second in earned run average at 11.0. He trails Chase Elliott, whose current earned run average is 10.2. Blaney is second in starting pitching average (8.95) behind Kyle Larson (8.43). He ranks second with 1,298 touchdown passes. Elliott leads with 1,403.
The third driver in points also has consecutive third places.
Blaney is third in the driver standings behind Elliott and Ross Chastain. Beaten again by Elliott and Chastain, he is third overall in green flag speed. Blaney’s average finish of 13.1 trails only Elliott and Chastain. He has the third-highest strikeout percentage in 15 at 73.1 percent.
Blaney also has five stage wins, and is leading more laps than anyone else in 2022. The only places he didn’t lead a round were the Bristol Dirt Raceway, Darlington, Sonoma, Loudon and Pocono. The second-ranked drivers on the lap list led at various tracks are Larson, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.
But Blaney’s future — even if he makes the race — is tinged with some significant downsides.
Blaney has yet to finish higher than third this season. His last points win came at the 2021 summer Daytona race, 31 races ago. The list of five tracks that Zur did not lead in includes the two most recent tracks that were contested. He finished first out of 15 in both races. Although Blaney had three poles, he had not found a stem since Richmond. His latest performance is on a low cycle. He has finished outside the top 10 in three of the last four races. Blaney is one of three drivers in the top 10 without a win.
Blaney was a contender for the regular-season points championship, but his most recent setback was the streak of Elliott’s streak of five top-two finishes. More worryingly, Blaney has lost 49 points to Martin Truex Jr. in the last two races. Truex is the last driver to make the race in points if there are no new qualifying winners.
Blaney maker Ford is struggling with its next-gen car. The Blue Oval has four wins in 21 races this year: two from Logano and one each from Austin Cindrich and Chase Briscoe.
Even though I won, I drove Blaine as the lead driver of the Ford. Logano’s season-at-a-glance graph is similar to other Ford winners this year: more ups and downs, though the ups and downs are higher than Blaney’s. Logano’s average completion percentage is 15.9 compared to Blaney’s 13.1.
Blaney edged out Kevin Harvick as the strongest driver. Blaney has a much better starting average when their finishing averages are compared.
Why doesn’t Blaney win races?
Harvick’s challenge this year was qualifying, but that’s not Blaney’s case. In addition to all of the above, Blaney is fifth in leading finishes, fourth in the top five, seventh in the top 10 and eighth in fastest lap.
It’s hard to find a stat that puts Blaney lower on the list.
But there is one.
The “records” statistic measures a driver’s race position relative to the driver’s finishing position in the 90th percentile of the race. In other words, it measures how many places a driver gains or loses in the last 10 percent of the race.
The next graph shows the total number of places that have won or lost 10 percent of the 21 races this season. As these drivers are Blaney’s peer group, I have only included the eight drivers with an average of less than 15th place finish.
Blaney has dropped 20 spots in the last 10 percent of races this season. That’s not the worst in the statistical column, but it’s eight full-time drivers behind Blaney in the closing rankings. In terms of other Ford drivers, Blaney finished ahead of Harvick (-21), Briscoe (-34) and Logano (-57).
Blaney lost 14 spots in the final 10 percent of races in Atlanta, 11 in Fontana and 10 in Darlington. His highest finish in a single tournament closing round was eight in Nashville.
Compare those numbers to current front-runner Elliott, who earned 25 spots over the same rounds.
in the future
Blaney is on the decline, but his slump hasn’t lasted more than a few races this season. If he is not in the game, he has a lot of time to win before the game.
Sunday’s second race at the Indianapolis road course could be one of Blaney’s best chances to win. The Toyota has struggled on road courses this year, giving Blaney a competitive advantage over the Truax.
Blaney has the most points on road courses this year – 115. He’s second behind Chastain with 106 points and Elliott third with 104 points.
NASCAR designed its current racing system to balance wins and consistency. Whether the wide spread of wins is related to the next-gen car or simply the result of a new car launch is unknown at this time.
Some fans want enough wins — at least 17 — that simply winning isn’t enough to get into the fray. In the year The 2022 playoffs will exclude drivers with at least one top-10-in-points finish in four to 10 of the 21 races.
If this pattern continues, NASCAR will have to re-examine the format and decide if the balance is too far to win.