By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into February’s 61st annual running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: 3
Career Wins: Two
Entering last season, Ryan Blaney was viewed by many as a driver that can strive for multiple race wins with Team Penske after showcasing his worth with the Wood Brothers. That was the case on multiple occasions, but luck was against him and heading into his second season in the No. 12 Ford Mustang, he hopes to have a turnaround after scoring one win at the Charlotte Roval.
Blaney’s road to victory came at the expense of both Jimmie Johnson and race leader Martin Truex, Jr., who both collided at the final chicane coming towards the checkered flag. As both struggled to get their cars rolling straight, Blaney serpentined his way towards the top of the leaderboard and came out as the unexpected victor.
While he had two previous top-ten results on road courses in his young career, many fans were stunned that Sept. 30, 2018 afternoon, even Blaney himself.
“It is really cool. It’s a different way than I’ve ever won one before in my life,” said Blaney. “I’ve never been running third and two guys wreck and won. I’ve never had that happen to me before, but it is neat. It’s cool to win the first one. Your name will be on it for a while, so that is special.
“It’s just a really cool day, a kind of unexpected ending to the day and it left us happy, so I’m sure there will be times when the tables are turned on me and I’m leading and me and second wreck each other and third wins because it all comes full circle in this deal, but it happened to work out for us today.”
Prior to his victory, Blaney had competitive cars throughout the season that were often better than his Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano.
Most notably during the first half of the regular season, where on three occasions, Blaney appeared to be in contention for race wins, but came out empty handed with two resulting in agonizing DNFs.
On a Monday afternoon in Martinsville, Blaney was among three drivers who led a combined total of 471 of 500 laps, with Blaney leading 145 circuits. However, the 25-year-old wound up in third as Clint Bowyer snapped a 190-race winless streak.
The very next race at Bristol, Blaney’s outcome was worse as a result of unfortunate circumstances.
With rain looming in the Food City 500, Blaney controlled his own destiny as he led 100 of the first 117 laps. While leading, he was caught up in a multi-car crash late in the opening stage, taking him out of the race.
Four races later at Kansas, Blaney was in great position of being a winning contender, but contact with Kyle Larson in Turn 1 dashed all of that and ended up 37th.
In the first thirteen races, Blaney started off as the championship leader to now 11th in points as a result of those crashes and an engine failure in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
For the rest of the season, Blaney would only have a few races where he would be a contender as his Penske teammates soldiered on with stronger runs throughout.
Despite having an up-and-down campaign, Blaney set career highs all around with three poles that helped him have the fourth highest average start at 9.4.
Additionally, he had eight top-fives, 16 top-10s, an average finish of 14.8 and ended up 10th in the final standings.
With one season under his belt at Team Penske, Blaney said after the finale at Homestead that he hopes for more success in 2019.
“I’m also very proud of my entire No. 12 team and all the hard work they’ve put in this year and we hope for a lot more success in 2019,” said Blaney.
No notable changes will be made in the No. 12 team as crew chief Jeremy Bullins will continue calling the shots for a fourth straight season.