Ryan Blaney has had one of the most impressive starts to 2022 of any driver in the NASCAR Cup Series. But his inability to win any of the season’s first 13 races could cause pressure to build on the 28-year-old’s ability to qualify for the NASCAR Playoffs.
It seems nearly impossible that Blaney would miss the playoffs, given he currently sits second in the points standings, 52 points behind leader Chase Elliott. Still, Kurt Busch took another automatic bid away Sunday with his win at Kansas Speedway, and the remaining open spots in the 16-driver field have started to dwindle.
Ryan Blaney is near the top in almost every statistical category
By nearly any measure, Blaney has been one of the best drivers in the sport this year. He has already tied a career high with three pole awards, tied with Christopher Bell for the most in the series. And his 371 laps led are second-most behind only William Byron’s 569. In addition, his average finishing position of 12.8 ranks fourth among all drivers.
He is only 52 laps led behind his 2021 season total, his average finishing position would be the second-best of his career, and his 8.5 average starting position would be the best of his nine-year career. However, he still has a zero on the most important list.
Blaney has also nearly won several times in 2022
Blaney does not yet have a win in 2022, but he has come quite close. He was in position to make a pass for the win and his first career Daytona 500 victory as the field sped toward the finish line out of Turn 4, but his Team Penske teammate Austin Cindric squeezed him into the outside wall, and Blaney finished fourth.
He also won the pole and led the most laps at both Phoenix Raceway in March and Richmond Raceway in April, but issues during both races set him back. He had a pit-road speeding penalty on lap 27 at Phoenix that forced him to work his way back through the entire field, and he was caught on the wrong side of the strategy game at Richmond.
Spots in the NASCAR Playoffs are becoming sparse
Blaney’s potential problem is there have been 11 different winners through the first 13 races of the season, including Busch this past Sunday in Kansas. So only five of the 16 postseason spots remain open for drivers without a win. Blaney is first on the list of winless drivers because of his point total, but there is a legitimate possibility more than five of the winless drivers could win one of the following 13 events.
Kevin Harvick has six top-10s this season and 58 career Cup Series wins, ranking second among active drivers. Martin Truex Jr. also has six top-10 finishes this season and has 31 victories, including at least one in seven consecutive seasons dating back to 2015.
Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have also won multiple times previously in their careers, while Bell won his first career race a year ago. Bell’s seven top-10s this season are tied with Kyle Larson for the fifth-most in the series.
Even winless drivers such as Tyler Reddick and Daniel Suarez have competed for victories this season and could realistically land in Victory Lane in the second half of the regular season.
The variety of tracks left in the regular season doesn’t help Blaney’s cause. Suarez will likely be a legitimate contender to win at one of the four remaining road courses. Both of Stenhouse’s wins came on superspeedways, and he’ll have opportunities to add to that total in July at Atlanta Motor Speedway and in the regular-season finale in August at Daytona International Speedway.
The series also visits World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis for the first time in early June, and that could be yet another wild-card race that could produce an unexpected winner.
Blaney will need to win soon before the pressure starts to rise even more
Blaney has seven career Cup Series wins, including three in 2021, but three have been at superspeedways and one at the Charlotte Roval road course. Banking on a win at a superspeedway is incredibly risky, and the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Larson and Elliott have yet to win on a road course this season despite a combined 10 road-course wins between them in their careers.
Ryan Blaney has been as successful as almost any driver this season, but consistency no longer counts for much in NASCAR. He’ll need a win soon, or he could be in danger of a distinction as the driver with the best season to not make the NASCAR Playoffs.
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.