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May 30, 2023

Analysis: After thrilling Coca-Cola 600 win, Ryan Blaney can permanently put winless drought behind him


CONCORD, N.C. — To most, eternity can mean forever. To Ryan Blaney, the saying took a simpler — albeit dredging — tone. Or in this case, number.

59.

After all, the No. 12 Team Penske driver had failed to find Victory Lane for 59 consecutive points-paying races. A full 36-race season — plus an extra 23, just to drive the message home — certainly illustrated the drought at hand.

No longer.

Electric speed, intense maneuvering and clutch performances during a multitude of restarts erased the streak for good Monday evening, following the 29-year-old’s victory on Memorial Day. Eternity was now a memory as opposed to a current actuality.

“I might shed a tear,” Blaney said following the win. “This has been a cool weekend. Obviously, Memorial Day Weekend means a lot, growing up here watching Dad (Dave Blaney) run this race for a long time. It’s so cool just to be a part of it, let alone win it.”

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Of course, the sweet thrill of victory didn’t come without the souring taste of defeat. Throughout Blaney’s 59-race spell, there were certainly close calls that very well could have netted a win. Leading 143 laps, in addition to starting on the pole during the 2022 spring race at Phoenix Raceway, certainly could have qualified. So could a 128-lap-led effort at Richmond Raceway (also coincidentally in spring 2022), where Blaney, once again, started on the pole but finished seventh. And so on and so forth.

Even still, the result was all the same. A winning opportunity without a winning result to show for it. From his last win in August 2021 at Daytona International Speedway to his Coca-Cola 600 win in 2023, Blaney finished inside the top five and top 10 18 and 30 times, respectively. And to make matters even gloomier, Blaney led 822 total laps during the timeframe.

For any driver with that much success without a win, it could have been the breaking point. Eternity could have prevailed. But to Blaney, the remedy came in the form of patience, even if the self-doubt was prevalent on more than one occasion.

“I just don’t try to think about that as much. We try to win every week,” Blaney said of the streak. “It’s hard to do. It’s hard to win these races, and sometimes, you just get these streaks of things aren’t going right, but then you feel like you’re doing everything right, maybe your cars aren’t fast enough to win races, or you’re making too many mistakes. It can definitely be frustrating. It’s easy to get down on yourself that you gotta think to yourself, ‘Can I still do it? Can I still compete at a winning level?’ So, it’s easy to kind of doubt yourself.

“At the end of the day, we all pull up together, and everyone did a good job working on things that we could get better, and yeah, it does feel like an eternity, but I told (crew chief) Jonathan (Hassler) and all those guys. I said, ‘What a cool first one to get together, I mean, winning the 600.’ That’s a super cool one to win.”

WATCH: Blaney ends winless drought with checkered flag finish

With a win now under his belt in 2023, Blaney can look toward the postseason with a chance to do even more damage in a way all similar to the Blaney of old, including the same rendition who finished with three wins and a seventh-place points finish in 2021. But perhaps this year’s Blaney — with a 59-race drought now permanently in the rearview mirror — can take it a step further. Sometimes, it only takes one race, and with a fresh dose of confidence to build upon, perhaps the sky is the limit.

“When I do get in doubt, your abilities to do something is really hard to pull yourself out of it, at least for me, personally, just because I don’t have that self-confidence that some guys have, and it takes me a little more convincing,” Blaney said. “I don’t really have anything for it. It’s just trying to look forward to the next week and just trying to reassure yourself, like, you’re here for a reason. If you try to work on these things and try to perfect what you do, that’s all you can do. That’s kind of how I’ve approached it. It’s easy to get down, that’s for sure.

“It’s how you dig out of that stuff and kind of makes you, but yeah. The moments aren’t good, but it’s nice to be back. Hopefully, we can make it a more common thing.”

And perhaps eternity will permanently be no more.

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