For the first time this postseason, Ryan Blaney enters a cutoff race below the elimination line. Of course, it just so happens to be the Round of 8 finale – playoff drivers’ last chance to make the Championship 4, something Blaney has yet to do in his six-year career.
Though, the No. 12 Team Penske Ford driver is only one point out heading into Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App/Peacock, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“We’ve been in the Round of 8, this is the third time, and just haven’t been able to make the championship race yet,” Blaney said Thursday. “So, yeah, I think that’s a big, big hurdle for us, for myself personally. It would be a great accomplishment to be able to that, not only for myself but everyone working on this 12 car – and give Todd a shot to run for a championship in his last season.”
Todd would be Todd Gordon, Blaney’s crew chief. He’s set to retire from atop the pit box at the 2021 schedule’s conclusion.
Blaney and Gordon began working together prior to the 2020 season. Together, they have tallied four wins. Three of those came this year alone, breaking Blaney’s four-year streak of one-win seasons in a good way.
Winning is the easiest answer to Blaney’s current predicament, but it’s not his only solution. If not the best-performing car, he can still point his way into next week’s title battle.
“You just try not to go into panic mode in those situations,” Blaney said. “Because then you start driving kind of over the limit. And sometimes you can go slower, especially at Martinsville if you’re trying to kind of push too hard and kind of get out of your groove. So I know it’ll definitely get intense if you’re in that situation.”
Gordon is going to be the one in Blaney’s ear updating him on standings as they race. Blaney prefers to focus on stage points through the first two portions of the event, and then when time starts to run out, with around 100 laps to go, Gordon can chime in on where he ranks and who he needs to beat.
If Blaney finds himself still one point below the elimination line in the final laps, a spot or two could very well determine whether he ends up with the opportunity to compete for the 2021 championship – potentially his first. A risk may be warranted.
“I mean, define risky,” Blaney said. “I don’t know. Am I gonna turn somebody, wreck somebody? I wouldn’t like to think I would do that. But in those situations, you just never know. You never know.
“I mean, yeah, you’re gonna make some bold moves. Maybe shove it in a lane that you know might not be a full car width, it might be three quarters of it, but in that situation, you might have to get in there and be aggressive. Just depends what spot you’re in and what you’re willing to do at the end of that thing.”