by Bob Bocras
NASCAR FOX Sports writer
Ryan Blaney He comes from a family of race car drivers. He learned from a young age that racing, like all sports, is not always fair.
But the possibility of missing the playoffs when, statistically, it was one of the best years of his career? It can be hard to bear.
As much as Blaney tries not to think about it, he can’t help but think of the possibility. The 16-driver qualifying field is made up of the regular season champion as well as the next 15 drivers on the basis of wins, with the points ties broken.
Blaney, who finished third in the series with an average of 12.2 final points, is also third in the current standings. But 14 drivers have won this year, and with six races remaining in the regular season, there is a chance for the first time in the qualifying era, with only the winners qualifying for the qualifiers, with no places available for points.
“I don’t get too nervous about it,” Blaney said. “I know in the back of my mind, like, OK, things are likely to happen.
“But right away, I think, if we win a race, we’re fine. So I just try to focus on winning. That’s just the main thing, and a lot easier said than done. A little bit all year. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
Ryan Blaney in a playoff
Before Atlanta, Ryan Blaney was already worried he might not be in qualifying despite having the most of any driver without a win.
If Blaney ever needs a good distraction, this weekend could be a way for him to forget his place in NASCAR Cup Series Playoff bubble.
Blaney will compete Saturday night in the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) Series at Sharon Speedway, a 0.375-mile Ohio dirt track he knows all too well. His father, Dave, is a co-owner. His father will also race in the event for the series, which consists of former and current drivers from various motorsports disciplines racing on par with stock cars.
“I’m excited,” Blaney said. “I can’t wait to race with my dad… He’ll probably be a good listener for me. It would be great to race with him.
“We’ve done it a few times before. We’ve raced together for years, and I don’t know if I’ll get another chance before he stops racing. I definitely couldn’t get past that chance.”
Blaney at his father’s race in the SRX Series
Ryan Blaney is looking forward to competing against his dad at Sharon Speedway (where Dave Blaney is one of the owners) this weekend in the SRX race. Said Ryan: “He will probably polish me well.”
This will be the homecoming of all those returning to a place where fans know all about Blaney. Dave’s father, Lou, was a famous modified and sprint car racer and was a co-owner of the track. Dave starred in sprint cars on dirt before moving on to the NASCAR Cup Series. Dave’s brother, Dale, continues to race race cars, while Ryan has focused on stock cars and NASCAR.
“Very similar to Andrettis,” said Tony Stewart, who competes and operates the SRX. “Having that kind of history in that family name in motorsport is unparalleled.”
“It’s great to be able to not only race against Dave again, but to be in the race against Dave and Ryan at the same time is something that may or may not happen again.”
For Blaney, Saturday’s race should be fun. Trophy race on Sunday at the Pocono Raceway? That remains to be a sight.
In the past two weeks, Blaney has gone 33 points behind the points leader Chase Elliot to 78 points, making it a long shot for Blaney to win the regular season title for an automatic playoff bid.
Back in the day, after races, Blaney would look over the points to see how close he was to Elliott. Now he has to focus on winning. If no one else wins, they’ll be relatively safe on points, 37 years ahead of the next non-win driver (Martin Truex Jr..) and 105 points before the one after that (Kevin Harvick).
“There are guys who haven’t won yet and I expect to win from us, the 19 [of Truex]4 [of Harvick]Blaney said.
“Anyone can win. You can see someone who’s going to show up for one week and jump and win and do well, and they’re 20 in points, and they’re there. So, it’s a crazy time now. You never know what could happen.”
If there is Blaney’s trait, it’s the ability to focus on the race car and the race at hand and not get caught up in everything else. Balanians are known to be relatively calm people and do most of their talking on the right track. Ryan, once growing up when his dad was in NASCAR, is the most extroverted.
This helped him build a deep fan base. It probably won’t help him much on Saturday.
“It’s hard to be in my father’s head,” Blaney said. “He doesn’t talk much. So he can’t really get into my head, I can’t really get into my head. As it gets closer, I’m going to start poking some little nudges. Nothing too frank.”
And while he’s familiar with Sharon Speedway, he doesn’t think it would be a huge advantage (and certainly not an advantage when considering his dad has many more laps than he does).
“I grew up there a lot with my grandparents and things like that, but I had very limited follow-up time,” Blaney said. “That might be a good thing with SRX items. The less I know, the better probably.”
What to watch
Goodyear will bring a right-hand side tire that features an improved build starting with the Pocono. Construction is everything below the tire’s tread level (mainly the grit and layers of rubber except for the outer layer).
The hope is to give drivers more traction and stability, as it has been common for drivers to distance themselves this year.
Goodyear tested this right tire in Pocono and Charlotte.
“We see this uptick in performance as significant, as it has been positive on the mile-and-a-half tracks, as well as the unique configuration of the Pocono, with its three distinct corners,” said Greg Staker, Goodyear Racing Director.
Anything that helps with stability is good for drivers. They need to hope it’s also more durable, as Goodyear has met its challenges with the Next Gen and teams working on finding the right balance of air pressure and camber that gets the car going fast while not punishing the tire largely where it fails.
Loads on the tires will be a primary concern in Pocono due to the three different cornering configurations and higher speeds on the 2.5-mile track.
think out loud
Petty GMS Racing’s decision to release Ty Dillon After the season, the move announced last week was not a huge surprise. Sometimes things don’t work out.
Dillon New Hampshire entered 27th in the standings and slipped to 28th after an early crash. His average finish this season is 22.15 compared to his teammate Eric Joneswhich is 17.35.
Apparently Jones has clicked with crew chief Dave Ellens, who was brought on prior to the merger when GMS Racing bought Richard Petty Motorsports. Dillon and crew chief Jeram Donnelly never found a good collaboration.
Will Dillon find another place to race? It’s possible, although it could end up in trucks or the Xfinity series.
they said that
“We want to be bold and innovative when we think of new venues and new concepts that we are going to do. This is #1 on the list for us right now, and it will definitely be the most anticipated event of our season and one of the biggest sporting events in our country in 2023.” – Ben Kennedy NASCAR on Street track racing in Chicago
Bob Pokras has spent decades covering motorsports, including the last 30 games of the Daytona 500. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 after working for ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @Popocras. Looking for more NASCAR content? Subscribe to the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!
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