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October 2, 2023

Making the case for Ryan Blaney’s Round of 8 breakthrough


Ryan Blaney walks across the stage as he high-fives fans.
Sean Gardner
Getty Images

The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 12 finale might be looming for some, but for Ryan Blaney, it offers a chance to look ahead toward a greener and better pasture.

After the pilot of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford clinched his Round of 8 berth following a thrilling win at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, he and the team have the opportunity to begin preparations for the trio of tracks featured in the upcoming postseason round — Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Martinsville Speedway.

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Photo finish at Talladega leaves Ryan Blaney victorious Photo finish at Talladega leaves Ryan Blaney victorious

And while Blaney will still race in the Bank of America Roval 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course on Sunday (2 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App), the 29-year-old championship hopeful will have his eyes fixated on the Round of 8, where his title hopes have been dashed the last two years.

RELATED: Playoff standings | Cup schedule

The question is simple: Will Blaney overcome the hump to claim his first-ever Championship 4 spot? The short answer? Perhaps. After all, Blaney has had success at the three tracks, even if none of his nine career Cup wins have come on any of them. The longer answer? Well, let’s give it a look.

Starting with Las Vegas, Blaney has compiled five top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 14 Cup starts at the 1.5-miler, and while he has yet to crack the top 10 there behind the wheel of the Next Gen car — he has finished 36th, 28th and 13th at the track, dating back to 2022 — he has led 49 laps, which is tied for fourth among all Cup drivers in that span. A 12.4 average finish, additionally, ranks sixth among all active drivers with a minimum of 10 starts there. Blaney also has one career start on the pole at the track (2018).

Homestead-Miami, meanwhile, has proved to be more of a challenge. In eight career Cup starts, Blaney has only collected one top-10 finish, a third-place result in 2020, where he also led 70 laps. However, Blaney has shown capable of starting races there in an OK spot — in all eight races, Blaney started inside the top 15. With an emphasis on the right strategy, there isn’t a doubt that Blaney could finish as solidly as he starts.

That leads us to Martinsville, where Blaney has arguably had the most success among the three tracks. In 15 Cup starts at the short track, Blaney has accumulated seven top-five and nine top-10 finishes. While his 377 laps led ranks a respectable ninth among all active drivers, his 9.5 average finish ranks first among all active drivers with a minimum of 10 Cup races. Forty-nine laps led in the Next Gen package, in conjunction with one career pole start in the previous car (2020), round out Blaney’s résumé at the 0.526-mile short track.

MORE: Blaney’s career stats

On the surface, Blaney, like any other playoff driver, will have his work cut out for him. Winning a championship is no easy feat, after all, and for Blaney, the task of claiming his first Championship 4 appearance will not be handed to him. Instead, he will have to battle and tackle each Round of 8 track with a winning mindset.

Luckily for Blaney, his track record at Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville is enough to build upon. And with enough speed and necessary adjustments at those tracks, perhaps Blaney will look ahead to a championship opportunity as a result.

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