With a sixth-place finish on Sunday, Ryan Blaney left World Wide Technology Raceway atop the NASCAR Cup Series points standings for the first time this season.
Blaney netted 19 stage points in the Enjoy Illinois 300, winning Stage 2 and placing second in the opening stage to tie race-winner Kyle Busch for most stage points at St. Louis.
“Being the points leader is nice,” Blaney told NASCAR.com. “We’ve come from a long way back. Hopefully, we can keep it up through the summer months, having good runs and trying to hunt for a couple more wins too.”
Blaney and his No. 12 crew at Team Penske are finding plenty of momentum as the second half of the regular season begins. Blaney’s win in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Monday night propelled the team to another strong run at St. Louis. The Sunday result marked Blaney’s sixth top-10 finish in the past seven races.
Blaney’s season has quickly turned for the better. Before Memorial Day Weekend, the driver of the No. 12 Ford was in the midst of a 59-race winless streak, yet to win with crew chief Jonathan Hassler who took the reins of the group at the beginning of the 2022 season.
Yet for all the near-misses throughout that stretch, Blaney has proven a consistent contender. The 64 points Blaney collected at Charlotte are the third-most in a single race since stage racing was introduced in 2017. And after leading 163 laps in Charlotte, he paced the field for 83 circuits at Gateway.
“You’ve got to put solid days like that together,” Blaney said. “And luckily we had a car fast enough to stick up front all day and work on it. And just one of those things where you just lose a little bit at the end.”
Blaney entered the day just one point behind Ross Chastain for the series lead. And while Blaney was a frontrunner all day, Chastain scored just five stage points before finishing 22nd.
The next three weeks, however, could provide a challenge as the series heads to two road courses in that span: Sonoma Raceway and the brand-new Chicago Street Race. Blaney has one career win on a road course as the inaugural victor on the Charlotte Roval in 2017 and one top-five finish in six Sonoma starts.
Between the two road courses sits the concrete, 1.333-mile Nashville Superspeedway. After crashing out in the inaugural Cup race there in 2021, Blaney returned to finish third at the tri-oval one year ago.