Blaney won relatively early this season at Charlotte and qualified for the playoffs, but he and his No. 12 Penske Ford team struggled with performance during the summer.
Entering the playoffs, Blaney wasn’t considered a serious contender for the 2023 title, but that narrative has since been turned on its head.
With timely wins at Talladega and last Sunday at Martinsville, Va., Blaney not only earned a trip to the Championship 4 but with as good a chance as any to come away with the title.
That path should sound familiar – it’s almost identical to the one Blaney’s team-mate, Joey Logano, used last year on his way to his second career Cup championship.
Logano got an early season win in 2022, but it was his pair of well-timed victories in the playoffs that sent him to the title race, where he came away the winner again.
Photo by: Gavin Baker / NKP / Motorsport Images
Race winner Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, Ford Mustang
“I think there are some similarities,” Blaney said. “The playoffs for us, for Joey last year and me this year, have been fairly similar. Peaking at a really good time. That’s kind of what that group did last year. We’re definitely doing that this year.
“Our groups work really closely together, me and (Logano) and (Austin Cindric) and (Harrison Burton) as well. We all work really close together. It’s been fun to work with Joey on that since he was out of the playoffs early, kind of working with Joey through that stuff, picking his brain on a few things.
“Hopefully it’s identical next week to what Joey’s end of the season was last year.”
The other commonality between Logano’s appearance in the Championship 4 last year and Blaney’s this year is neither were among the title “favorites” entering the playoffs and their respective organizations had performance difficulties during the season.
While Kyle Larson and William Byron from Hendrick Motorsports have been two of top performers this year and made the final four, Blaney’s appearance as well as Christopher Bell’s shows strong playoff runs can pay huge dividends.
Surprise teams showing up as title contenders has become somewhat of a trend since the introduction of the Cup Series’ Next Gen car at the start of the 2022 season.
Photo by: John Harrelson / NKP / Motorsport Images
Race winner Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang in victory lane
“I don’t think you can ever count anybody else out,…