HOMESTEAD, Fla. – It seems like Ryan Blaney has overcome plentiful challenges during the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Namely, the Hartford Township, Ohio native lost regular crew chief Jonathan Hassler after his four race suspension following the Playoff race at Bristol.
Moreover, the Team Penske racer has three finishes of 26th or worse in the past seven races.
Still, it is no cause for concern for the driver of the No. 12 Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang, even after qualifying 13th for Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).
While the 28-year-old looked like a surefire pick for last Sunday’s South Point 400, trouble found the Cup superstar in the late going.
Regardless, he does not feel like it is time to hit the panic button just yet, not even for the Bob Lobel-types in the racing circles.
“I don’t think we are in a must-win,” Blaney said. “After I wrecked last week, I thought I was going to be way more points out than I actually am. The stages we ran really good, so luckily we had those.
“You never know what can happen. I think you can make up those points in the next two races but I would sure like to win this weekend. But I don’t think we are in a must-win situation.”
Although Blaney is as cool as the other side of the pillow, he recognizes an area of opportunity for his No. 12 team.
Namely, he would love to have some of the resiliency associated with his teammate Joey Logano and crew chief Paul Wolfe.
“Joey and Paul are very well-seasoned veterans of the sport. They have been around a long time and do a great job looking at the bigger picture of things,” he observed. “That is something that I try to do better, that exact same thing, look ahead to the bigger picture more than right in front of me in the moment.
“They do a really good job of that. That is something that myself and Jonathan, who has been on vacation the last few weeks, but Miles has done a great job stepping in.”
Certainly, Blaney has carried on without Hassler, working efficiently with interim crew chief Samuel “Miles” Stanley. Regardless, he looks forward to Hassler’s return, particularly with improving their communication and chemistry.
“I think when Jonathan comes back that is something we can improve on,” he offered. “It is his first full year crew chiefing and that is something we can really work on, planning ahead better.
“I think we do a good job at it now but I can definitely do a better job at that, for sure. You try to learn from people who are really good and surround yourself with good people. We have that, we just have to apply all those things.”
For Sunday’s 267 lap race, it will be about applying what has worked along with what has been learned in the past 33 weeks. No matter who sits atop the No. 12 team’s pit box, Blaney and his over-the-wall crew have to rally together at Homestead-Miami and next Sunday at the bullring in Martinsville, Virginia.
Given how tough passing was last April at Martinsville Speedway, Blaney is hoping that the postseason stakes pumps up the volume, if you will, at the paperclip shaped track.
“I feel like that race always gets pretty wild,” he remarked. “I hope the racing there is better than in the spring. I don’t know how it is going to be any better or different than the spring with no changes really.
“I think it will be wild. You are going to have, let’s say a Playoff guy wins (at Homestead-Miami), you are going to have six guys trying for two spots. So it can definitely be chaotic.”
Moreover, Blaney, like his peers and the greats from NASCAR past, will pursue a prized godfather clock at the Dominion State staple. Compared to the spring race, it will be the usual, grueling 500 lap affair in late October.
“I think you have to prepare yourself for anything,” he said. “That race is a long one. You have to be there at the end of that thing and be aggressive to position yourself towards the front.”
Some of the stresses with Martinsville can be quelled with a victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday afternoon. That said, Cup racing is as unpredictable as it gets, which means proactive planning and considerations are as paramount as ever, even for a driver of Blaney’s caliber.
“Qualifying there was really important,” Blaney stated. “Joey and I qualified really bad there in the spring. Our race runs were great but we got to third and fourth and you were a lot better than first or second but you can’t pass them.
“You can’t even get to them to lay the bumper to them. We will see but I think it will be pretty aggressive next week per usual.”