Ryan Blaney’s desire to win Sunday at Pocono Raceway is twofold:
A win is a win — which Blaney and the No. 12 Team Penske group do not have this season — but a win would also take him from 15th on the playoff grid, in danger of potentially missing the postseason, to an assured spot while also stopping Blaney from having to answer questions about his situation.
“Same situation – got to win,” Blaney said of his position after Christopher Bell made it 14 different winners. “Six races [to go] and you never know; you never know who can jump up there, obviously.
“I’d love to win so y’all stop asking me the same question every week. I want to win real bad, so hopefully, we can do it this weekend.”
Blaney scored his first NASCAR Cup Series win at Pocono in 2017 driving for Wood Brothers Racing. He finished top 10 in the doubleheader weekend at Pocono last season.
Winning is the best way for Blaney to clinch a playoff spot. He is third in the overall championship standings, which is why he is the highest driver on the playoff grid without a win. As more and more drivers have gone to victory lane, the narrative has shifted to whether the series will finally see 16 or more winners.
For a time, Blaney was second in the standings and keeping pace with Chase Elliott. The driver who wins the regular season championship is guaranteed a playoff spot regardless of their win tally, or lack thereof, but in recent weeks Blaney has lost ground to Elliott in the points and, as such, that avenue might be closed. On the flip side, that might have opened up the approach to the final regular season races a bit more for Blaney’s team.
“I think it’s changed up a little bit,” he said. “A month ago, we were a little bit closer and obviously he’s had a great month and a half and kind of pulled away from us when we’ve been kind of struggling.
“I think it changes up, especially here — maybe pitting before the stage and cycling to the front. We’ve got plans for that. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Behind Blaney on the playoff grid is Martin Truex Jr. — also winless. Both teams have shown they are capable, which reflects in their standings in the points, and now will be keeping an eye on each other even more closely. If there are no new winners, two drivers will make it into the postseason on points, and no driver wants to be on the cutline coming down to the stretch.
“We had a pretty good point gap on him, and we didn’t have a good day last week. He had almost a really great day last week,” Blaney said. “That’s closed in. Obviously you can’t throw away all these points, so yeah, it’s a tough spot to be in, but I could think of worse spots to be in.
“You definitely have to keep that in the back of your head that it could be a points race. If [Elliott] has a really good race the next six weeks and we struggle and he jumps us and all of a sudden, we’re on the bubble. You always have to think about that.”
Blaney has been one of the more consistent drivers this season with opportunities to win. Early in the season, it seemed a matter of when and not if it would happen. Now the driver who is third in the point standings faces the possibility he might not battle for the championship.
“It’s definitely unfortunate,” Blaney said. “I feel like we’ve could have won one or two races already this year, and it just didn’t come together for us. Between myself and Truex and [Kevin] Harvick, we’ve all had pretty decent years, and we’re all sitting in a kind of funky spot.
“It just shows this new car can produce all these different kinds of winners week in and week out. I don’t really sit around and say, man, I’m surprised we haven’t won. I just try to figure out how we can do it and, when we do have a car capable of winning, what can we make better to capitalize on those opportunities. That’s the main thing I think about.”