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Winless Blaney Remains a Cup Championship Threat

The No. 12 team has spent much of the season near the top of the standings.


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It’s certainly not how the Team Penske No. 12 crew drew it up prior to the season but Ryan Blaney remains winless but still remarkably one of the favorites to at least advance to the championship race in November at Phoenix Raceway.

Regardless of how it ends, this has been one of the strangest modern seasons ever for a team clearly capable of winning the championship, because they nearly missed the playoffs altogether. Blaney spent much of the season second in the championship standings but would have missed the playoffs if it wasn’t for the injury to Kurt Busch.

Even with Busch withdrawing his waiver, Blaney still was at risk of missing the playoffs, barely advancing over Martin Truex Jr. once the final regular season race came to a close last month at Daytona International Speedway.

This all happened because of the immediate parity provided by the new car and 16 different winners in the regular season followed by three additional winners at the start of the playoffs.

Despite it all, Blaney has advanced to the second round of the playoffs and is fourth in the standings with two races left at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval. Even if Blaney doesn’t win for a third time at Talladega or for the rest of the season for that matter, he views himself as having a chance at the Bill France Cup regardless.

"Obviously, I would like to win a race, but I do definitely think there's a pathway," Blaney "We'll just keep plugging away at it. It's a matter of the right things falling into place for us. I'd like to win very much, but I do think we can make it to Phoenix regardless. This group is plenty of strong enough and that starts this weekend (at Talladega) and trying to survive it and then go on to the Roval ... I think we can get to Phoenix but I'm just hoping we've been saving it for the playoffs."

But the past month hasn’t been free of drama either.

At Bristol, Blaney lost a wheel, finished 30th to sneak into this round, but had crew chief Jonathan Hassler plus rear tire changer Zachary Price and jack man Graham Stoddard suspended for the next four races.

For those races, Blaney will have Penske engineer Miles Stanley interim crew chief.

Despite continuing to advance, it’s been a challenging road and it would be easy for Blaney to feel beat up, but he doesn’t view this way.

"Not really," Blaney said. "I've had a pretty crazy past month and a half. Everyone does a great job of overcoming it and persevering. It's got us to this point. Now with Jonathan, Zach and Graham not being at the race track, it's another thing we'll face head on.

"Miles will do a great job on the pit box. He's been at Penske a long time. He was one of my engineers with Todd (Gordon) so we already have a great line of communication. We had some guys coming over from the 21 to go over the wall and they're going to do a good job.

"We're not beaten up, but you have challenges in life and it's just a matter of putting the right people in place to overcome it. I think we've shown that. I look forward to working with those guys and keeping that up."

Blaney wouldn’t be the first winless champion under this format as Matt Crafton won the Truck Series championship in 2019 without a win.