Getting in by a whisker sharpens Blaney’s NASCAR playoffs focus

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Getting in by a whisker sharpens Blaney’s NASCAR playoffs focus

NASCAR

Getting in by a whisker sharpens Blaney’s NASCAR playoffs focus

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Ryan Blaney came within a few laps last weekend of not being a participant in Thursday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff media day. But Blaney did survive a wild day in Daytona to clinch the final playoff spot with a car that looked more like it’d had a day at a short track. It wasn’t pretty, but three points were enough to keep Blaney in the championship hunt and now that he is, the next task begins.

“It’s like, OK, everything is reset [and] we can really go at them now,” Blaney said.

If there is a driver who can appropriately use the reset word going into the first round of the playoffs, which begin Sunday at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET, USA), it’s Blaney. Not until this week could the focus of the No. 12 Team Penske group shift to trying to win a championship, because he and his team had spent the summer fighting to ensure they had an opportunity to do so.

“I think a little bit,” Blaney admitted of changing his mindset. “It was definitely a tough last month of racing the 19 [Martin Truex Jr.] real hard and you have one guy you’re trying to [beat] to get the final spot to set yourself up for 10 weeks. Now that we’ve accomplished that goal, all right, now you get a little bit of breath of fresh air, and everything resets. We’ve got great bonus points from the pretty good season we’ve had so far, and it set us up toward the top half of the playoff grid.

“It’s refreshing for everybody. It’s not just me; it’s everybody on the team. It’s like, OK, we’ve accomplished that goal of getting in, and now it turns into a new goal of trying to go win this weekend and then trying to do our job for the next 10 weeks. It is a little, I guess you could say, new life maybe. We weren’t dead before, but it was definitely a different mindset.”

Blaney’s playoff hopes took an early hit at Daytona, but he and the 12 team persevered. Nigel Kinrade / Motorsport Images

Blaney and Truex wound up in a battle for the final spot on the playoff grid because Austin Dillon won the playoff-deciding race. Both Blaney and Truex had been involved in crashes earlier in the day, and it was a matter of whose damaged car could make it to the finish. Even though Truex was on the lead lap and Blaney was not, Truex’s damaged car didn’t have the speed to hang with the lead pack and pick up the last few spots he needed to overtake Blaney on points.

Blaney lost 22 points to Truex at Daytona but not the ones that mattered. Afterward, Blaney said he would unwind from the stressful day by going home and having a cold beer. Blaney happily reported he did just that.

“Yeah, I had a handful,” he said. “It was a nice relaxing night of getting home and hanging out a little bit. Definitely needed that.”

Blaney is the only driver in the postseason who does not have a race victory. While the win column might be empty, however, Blaney had an incredibly consistent regular season by finishing third in the overall standings. He also has the third-best average finish of any playoff driver and more top-five finishes than three drivers seeded above him on the playoff grid.

“I would love it if we barely sneak in by the skin of our teeth and then go out there and make it to Phoenix,” Blaney said. “That’d be pretty good. And I think this team is plenty capable that’s for sure. I’ve got the utmost confidence in the world in those guys and I think everyone [in the playoffs] has something to prove just showing that you deserve to be here.”

MX-5 Cup | Round 12 – VIR

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