Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Can Ryan Blaney Capitalize on a Second Chance?

1. Ryan Blaney’s Postseason Hopes Have New Life. Can He Take Advantage?

Late Sunday night (Oct. 15), Ryan Blaney‘s chances to advance to the Championship 4 appeared somewhere between slim and none after a post-race penalty for a left front shock being too short dropped him to a 36th-place finish and last among drivers in the Round of 8.

Less than 24 hours later, like the late humorist Lewis Grizzard’s story about “Uncle Cleve,” Blaney’s postseason hopes rose back up out of the casket.

NASCAR rescinded that penalty on Monday, restoring Blaney’s points position to seventh, just 17 points below the cutline heading into Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend and then Martinsville Speedway.

See also
Ryan Blaney's Disqualification Rescinded, Finishes 6th at Las Vegas

That could bode well for Blaney and the No. 12 team. These next two tracks are not slam-dunk win chances for Blaney, but there is no reason that momentum from a sixth-place result at Las Vegas Motor Speedway can’t be carried over to another intermediate track at Homestead. When you consider that Blaney’s last nine times at Martinsville have produced no finish worse than 11th and seven top 10s, the opportunity is ripe to make up points.

The No. 12 team was given new life on Monday. The next two weeks will show whether or not they can take advantage.

2. Can Kyle Larson’s Team Reprise Jimmie Johnson’s Postseason Mojo?

During Jimmie Johnson‘s run of seven championships, a parallel to the New England Patriots developed. No, Chad Knaus was not speaking to the media using less-than-10-word answers in press conferences. And Rick Hendrick certainly was not signing off on it being fashionable to have a hoodie be viewed as trademark attire.

The No. 48 team was, however, a team that was formidable no matter how it got to the postseason. It didn’t matter how much dominance there was in the regular season. It was the team that nobody wanted to see in the postseason. Johnson and the No. 48 team developed that trait over time. They may not have always been the best team over the full season, but they were the best when it counted (ask Denny Hamlin, among others, about that one).

Ironically, Kyle Larson may be pulling the same title-run tactic off. All year long, it’s been William Byron who has been the odds-on Hendrick Motorsports driver who’s been more consistent, winning six times on a variety of tracks.

But then there’s Larson.

During one late-spring stretch, a span of five races saw two wins but three finishes of worse than 30th. A third place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway? That was sandwiched between a showing of 36th at Atlanta Motor Speedway via a DNF and 20th at Pocono Raceway. Some of those finishes for sure were the results of other on-track circumstances, but they were a nutshell of Larson’s up-and-down season.

But a funny thing happened once the postseason began. First with a win at Darlington Raceway and now the most recent race at Las Vegas, Larson has now won twice in the postseason. More critically, Larson is locked into the Championship 4.

By all accounts, the No. 5 team appears to have found the postseason switch at just the right time, much like the No. 48 used to do.

3. Do Tyler Reddick’s Championship 4 Hopes Ride on Homestead?

Few drivers in the Round of 8 need a strong run, perhaps a win, at Homestead more than Tyler Reddick. You don’t want to go into any final race of a round needing a win to advance. And if this current generation of racecar has proven anything at Martinsville, passing won’t be easy. That’s why Reddick’s Championship 4 hopes may come down to what happens in South Florida.

If not for a crash last year, Reddick’s average finish in the NASCAR Cup Series at Homestead would be… 3.0. Obviously, that was all in Richard Childress Racing equipment, but there is no substitute for a driver having a track figured out. When you compare that to Reddick having just one top ten at Martinsville, this is a massive race at 23XI Racing.

This has already been the best season in 23XI’s short history, but Homestead could make it more special.

4. Do the Tracks of This Round Really Produce the Best Four Drivers?

The third leg of the postseason for the Cup Series will go from one intermediate track to… another intermediate track.

The reason for that is puzzling. If the goal is to decide the best four drivers by testing varied skills, does having two of these three races at tracks of similar length really approach that?

NASCAR will avoid that to a degree next year with the first two playoff rounds. Running Atlanta, Watkins Glen International and Bristol Motor Speedway blends three tracks together that could not be more different. The same goes for the Round of 12 with the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, Talladega Superspeedway and Kansas Speedway, leading to the third round of… Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville.

See also
Entry List: 2023 4EVER 400

Each round of the postseason should showcase how versatile these drivers are. Two intermediate tracks in a row fail to accomplish that.

5. Looking for a Non-Playoff Spoiler? Don’t Rule Out Chase Elliott

The season of discontent is nearly over for fans of Chase Elliott. In three races, 2023 will be over and unless something contrary to what’s been recently seen happens, Elliott will head into the offseason winless.

Don’t expect the No. 9 car and those associated with it to do so quietly, however.

Nobody wants to enter an offseason on a sour note, and no team has seen expectations sour this year more than Elliott as a result of various on and off-track factors.

Everyone in the garage wants something to feel good about going into the offseason, and there’s no reason that Elliott cannot contend to win during the next two races.

Elliott has been serviceable at Homestead, posting two 14th-place finishes in a row and being second three seasons back. Martinsville? That’s a track where you would have to tab Elliott as a spoiler with a span in his career that has included seven races with six top 10s and three straight top fives.

If you’re looking for a non-playoff driver to follow in AJ Allmendinger‘s footsteps and play spoiler in the next two races, it may as well be Elliott.

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Hard to say if Blaney & his Penski team can capitalize on his reprieve, or not.

But the DQ was a death sentence, now -17 to the cut line is more like a life sentence.

It’s hard, but as long as he’s alive there’s always a chance, actually 2 chances.

The team can come out guns blazing, or another team can make a big mistake, & leave the door open.

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