Ryan Blaney to take break from NASCAR playoff race at familial SRX
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
Ryan Blaney comes from a family of race car drivers. And he learned from a young age that the sport of racing, like all sports, isn't always fair.
But the possibility of missing the playoffs when, statistically, he's having one of the best years of his career? That might be difficult to stomach.
As much as Blaney tries not to think about it, he can't help but ponder the possibility. The 16-driver playoff field consists of the regular-season champion plus the next 15 drivers based on wins, with ties broken by points.
Blaney, whose average finish of 12.2 ranks him third in the series, also sits third in the current standings. But 14 drivers have won this year, and with six races remaining in the regular season, there is a chance that for the first time in the playoff era, only winners advance to the playoffs, with no spots available on points.
"I don't really get too nervous over it," Blaney said. "I know in the back of my mind, like, OK it's a possibility that stuff can happen.
"But right away, I think, if we just win a race, we're fine. So I just try to focus on winning. That's just the main thing, and it's a lot easier said than done. We've been chomping at the bit all year. It's just a matter of putting everything together."
If Blaney ever needed a good distraction, this weekend could serve as a way for him to forget his spot on the NASCAR Cup Series playoff bubble.
Blaney will compete Saturday night in the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) Series at Sharon Speedway, a 0.375-mile Ohio dirt track that he knows quite well. His father, Dave, is a co-owner. And his father also will race in the event for the series, which consists of former and current drivers from various motorsports disciplines racing equally prepared stock cars.
"I'm excited," Blaney said. "I can't wait to race with dad. ... He's probably going to wax me pretty good. It's just going to be cool to race with him.
"We've done it a couple of times before. We raced together years ago, and I don't know if I'll ever get another chance before he stops racing. I definitely couldn't pass on the opportunity."
This will be the homecoming of all homecomings at a place where the fans know everything Blaney. Dave's father, Lou, was a famous modified and sprint-car racer and was a co-owner of the track. Dave shined in sprint cars on dirt before making a transition to the NASCAR Cup Series. Dave's brother, Dale, continues to race sprint cars, while Ryan has focused on stock cars and NASCAR.
"Very similar to the Andrettis. To have that kind of history in that family's name in motorsports is unparalleled," said NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart, who competes and operates SRX.
"It's pretty cool to be able to not only race against Dave again, but to get to race against Dave and Ryan at the same time is something that may or may not happen ever again."
For Blaney, the race Saturday should be fun. The Cup race Sunday at Pocono Raceway? That remains to be seen.
In the past two weeks, Blaney has gone from 33 points behind points leader Chase Elliott to 78 points back, making it a long shot for Blaney to win the regular-season title for an automatic bid to the playoffs.
In the past, after races Blaney would glance at the points to see how close he was to Elliott. Now he has to focus on winning. If no one else wins, he's relatively safe in points, as he is 37 ahead of the next winless driver (Martin Truex Jr.) and 105 points ahead of the one after that (Kevin Harvick).
"There are guys that haven't won yet that I expect to win from us, the 19 [of Truex], the 4 [of Harvick]," Blaney said.
"Anyone can win. You can see someone will pop up one week and jump up and win and do a good job, and they're sitting 20th in points, and they're in. So it's a crazy time right now. You never know what can happen."
If there is a Blaney trait, it is the ability to focus on the race car and the race at hand and not get wrapped up in everything else. The Blaneys are known for being relatively quiet people and doing most of their talking on the track. Ryan, just by growing up when his dad was in NASCAR, is the most extroverted of the bunch.
That has helped him generate a deep fan base. It probably won't help him much on Saturday.
"It's hard to get in my dad's head," Blaney said. "He doesn't talk much. So he can't really get in my head, I can't really get in his. As it gets closer, I'm going to start poking little jabs. Nothing too explicit."
And while he is familiar with Sharon Speedway, he doesn't think it will be much of an advantage (and certainly not one when considering his father has many, many more laps than he does).
"I grew up there a lot with my grandparents and stuff like that, but I had very limited track time," Blaney said. "That might be a good thing going up there with the SRX stuff. The less I know, the better, probably."
What to watch for
Goodyear will bring a right-side tire that features an improved construction starting at Pocono. Construction is everything underneath the tread level of the tire (primarily the beads and the layers of rubber except for the outer layer).
The hope is to give the drivers more grip and added stability, as it has been a common occurrence for drivers to spin out by themselves this year.
Goodyear tested this right-side tire at Pocono and Charlotte.
"We see this gain in performance as significant, as it was a positive on mile-and-a-half tracks, as well as the unique configuration of Pocono, with its three distinct corners," Goodyear director of racing Greg Stucker said.
Anything that helps stability is good for drivers. They need to hope it also is more durable, as Goodyear has had its challenges with the Next Gen car and the teams working to find the right balance of air pressures and camber that make the car go fast while also not punishing the tire to the point where it fails.
Loads on tires will be a primary concern at Pocono because of the three different configurations of turns and the high speeds on the 2.5-mile track.
Thinking out loud
Petty GMS Racing's decision to release Ty Dillon after the season, a move announced last week, isn't much of a surprise. Sometimes things just don't work out.
Dillon entered New Hampshire 27th in the standings and dropped to 28th following an early crash. His average finish this season is 22.15, compared to teammate Erik Jones, who is at 17.35.
Jones has obviously clicked with crew chief Dave Elenz, who was brought in before the merger when GMS Racing bought out Richard Petty Motorsports. Dillon and crew chief Jerame Donley never found a good synergy.
Will Dillon find another place to race? It's possible, though it might end up being in the trucks or the Xfinity Series.
They said it
"We want to be bold and innovative when we think about new venues and new concepts that we're going to. This is No. 1 on the list for us right now, and it's certainly going to be the most anticipated event of our season and one of the biggest sport events in our country in 2023." — NASCAR's Ben Kennedy on the Chicago street-course race
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!