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Fire on Fridays: Ryan Blaney Needs to Make a Splash in 2023

If you look up “consistency” in the NASCAR dictionary, you could probably find a picture of Ryan Blaney. With an average finish of 14.8 in his seven full-time seasons, he’s definitely been one to watch come championship season, especially after joining Team Penske in 2018.

But as he enters 2023, the Hartford, Ohio native has just seven wins to his name in as many full-time seasons. His best campaign was in 2021, scoring three wins: at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Michigan International Speedway and Daytona International Speedway. He had one win per season leading up to 2021, beginning in 2017 when he nabbed his first career win at Pocono Raceway with Wood Brothers Racing.

However, Blaney was winless in 2022 (aside from the All-Star Race), which saw him as the lone driver to make the playoffs on points. Meanwhile, his rookie teammate Austin Cindric won the Daytona 500 en route to Rookie of the Year honors, and all his other teammate Joey Logano did was capture his second championship in five seasons. Blaney has to find a way to solidify himself in the Team Penske lineup or else the Captain needs to reevaluate his stable.

Blaney arguably should have won more races to this point, but he and his No. 12 team have had trouble putting together complete races. But therein lies the problem – “almost” race wins aren’t race wins. If “almost” wins counted, this conversation wouldn’t be a question. But seven wins, with three of them coming on superspeedways, isn’t exactly an impressive resume (unless you’re Jamie McMurray, where almost 30% of your wins are crown jewels).

The fact that Blaney hasn’t felt even a little bit of heat for his lack of wins is astounding, considering people have criticized Alex Bowman for not winning at Hendrick Motorsports. Bowman has the same amount of wins as Blaney in five full-time seasons with Hendrick Motorsports (his first two seasons were with BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, respectively, so we won’t count those).

Bowman received a three-year contract extension a few weeks ago and quieted the talk that he should be replaced, but the thought is still there. Blaney also signed a contract extension with Team Penske last August, but so far hasn’t delivered any wins to the Captain.

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If Logano is the team’s flagship driver after Brad Keselowski departed the team at the end of 2021, and Cindric is the solidified young gun of the group, then what does that make Blaney? A veteran for sure, but he hasn’t had as much success as I’m sure he or his team have wanted. And say what you want about consistency; in the Playoff era, if you can’t win in the Cup Series, it’s really hard to win the Cup.

Maybe a change is needed? Team Penske had switched around its crew chiefs shortly before Keselowski’s departure, and while it helped Blaney to a three-win season, it hasn’t helped him since.

Team Penske historically hasn’t done well with three full-time cars either, so that might also compound the problem. The last time the team ran three full-time cars was from 2008-2010, when Sam Hornish Jr. drove the No. 77 in addition to Kurt Busch’s No. 2 and the No. 12 shared between Ryan Newman, Keselowski, and others throughout that three-year stretch. In that span, Hornish’s best finish in points was 28th in 2009.

The team downsized in 2011 to just two cars until the addition of Blaney in 2018. Maybe Team Penske’s NASCAR operations just can’t handle three cars, especially with the No. 21 of Harrison Burton and Wood Brothers Racing having a technical alliance with the team, meaning its cars are prepared and housed in the Penske shop – making Team Penske a de facto four-car team.

It’s wild to even say this, but it probably needs to be said: 2023 should really act as a make-or-break year for the driver of the No. 12. If Blaney can’t find more success, Roger Penske needs to figure out if his current lineup is the one he wants to keep in the years moving forward.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is currently pursuing a master's degree. He is a theatre actor and fight choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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kb

I agree, Ryan seems to get a pass from fans because of who his father is, or that he is a Star Wars geek or he and his bestie of besties (cough) with a person who shall be nameless. He is not held accountable even at Penske it seems, and the fans of Pops Dave give excuses as the day is long. At some point maybe Ryan can have a look at himself. The excuses while valid at times don’t make the sum of all parts. He isn’t a saint and seems to be in the stratosphere of offspring of drivers of old, untouchable to honest and direct criticism or observation or any truth bomb!

Dan

Blaney would have a Daytona 500 win if not for his so called teammate Cindric putting him into the wall with the checkered flag waving.I get nervous every time Cindric is near Blaney. Of course we all know if Penske would downsize it wouldn’t be Cindric to go regardless if he wins or not since his Dad is president of Penske and certainly they’re not getting rid of Logano.

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