SPEEDWAY, Ind. — There’s no other way to describe 2022 than as an anomaly for Ryan Blaney.
Through 21 races, Blaney has recorded seven top fives and 10 top 10s, but has yet to break through with a victory. In any ordinary season, Blaney would sit well inside the playoff picture, but this is no ordinary season.
With five races remaining in the regular season, Blaney is third in overall points but 15th in the playoff standings as there have been 14 different winners. Another new winner would put him on the bubble and in serious jeopardy of missing the 10-race playoff.
But, the way to avoid that scenario would be to win. On Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Blaney has a strong chance to do so. He has had road course success in the past, winning the inagural race at the Charlotte ROVAL in 2018.
“I look at any week and I feel like this group can go out and win any week,” Blaney said in a press conference Saturday. “I feel like this is a great weekend for us and the four other races after that. I don’t really look at favorite tracks I think we have a better shot to win at. I try to keep the mindset of we can go out and win any week.”
Chase Elliott has dominated of late in the Cup Series, winning three of the last five races. But, mixed in between his victories were a pair of new winners. Tyler Reddick won at Road America on July 3 while Christopher Bell won at New Hampshire on July 17.
Though 16 winners in the regular season isn’t a guarantee, Blaney has the mindset that it’ll likely happen.
“I’m surprised it has not happened yet, and it could happen this year,” Blaney said. “That’s why you’ve seen people be so aggressive at the end of these races for wins. You have to do it, especially when you have so many winners. You cannot pass up your opportunity. I mean, I don’t like roughing people up or moving people out of the way, you have to get physical with it. You can’t afford to not be physical and give up a shot to win a race.”
If Blaney cannot secure a victory to clinch a playoff berth, he will likely have to point his way in over Martin Truex Jr., another winless driver.
Ahead of Indianapolis, Blaney has a 22-point advantage over Truex Jr. Blaney led by much more, but after a crash at Pocono last weekend, that margin has shrunk.
“[Truex Jr. has] closed the gap up pretty good. He’s been running pretty well,” Blaney said. “Hopefully, we can [win] and not have to worry about it, but you just have to be in the back of your head of realizing that you’re still points racing Martin – we are – for the final. You don’t want to be on the bubble if there’s no new winners, and obviously you want to try and win the race, so it’s a balancing act.”
But, even if Blaney can’t seal a victory at Indianapolis this weekend, he’ll have two great opportunities in the following weeks.
Next weekend, the Cup Series travels to Michigan International Speedway, a place where Blaney won last season. A week later, they head to Richmond Raceway, where Blaney won the pole in the spring and led 128 laps before a seventh-place finish.
“I’m excited to get back [to Michigan],” Blaney said. “It’s obviously a big weekend, just like this weekend for us with Ford being right in their backyard. I think it’ll be a good race, that’s for sure, with this car.
“I thought we learned a lot at the spring Richmond. We sat on the pole and led some laps. That’s a big day for me at that place, just trying to continue to get better there… I’ve got it half figured out now of kind of being good early in the race and good in qualifying and just need to figure out the second half of the race when that track kind of changes.”
Blaney will start sixth in Sunday’s Verizon 200 at the Brickyard. The race is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC. AJ Allmendinger won last year’s event.