That certainly doesn’t mean he’s a lock by any means.
Blaney enters Sunday’s race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway – the last chance to qualify for the title race – fourth in the playoff standings and a 10-point cushion over the cutoff line to advance on points.
However, being above the cutline line at all is still the best position Blaney has found himself in his career at this point in the semifinal round of the playoffs.
“Personally, I don’t think I look at it any differently. I mean, it’s nice to be in that spot, being above instead of clawing your way in,” Blaney said Wednesday. “You’re still going to have to fight hard.
“I don’t think you can get relaxed unless you are (Christopher Bell or Kyle Larson) this weekend. We still have a job to do, and you still have to work hard, whether you’re below or above (the cutoff).”
“You still have to have the mindset that we need to do a decent job because other teams are going to do a decent job as well. We have to be on that level.”
Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, MenardsDuracell Ford Mustang
While Blaney has a pair of wins this season – the second-most of his eight full-time Cup seasons – it has been an up-and-down year for Team Penske and Blaney’s No. 12 Ford team.
Teammate Austin Cindric didn’t qualify for the playoffs and teammate and last year’s champion Joey Logano has already been eliminated from title contention.
Blaney, 29, credits a dedicated effort by his team to find speed late in the season which helped correct their struggles throughout the summer months.
“I’m just incredibly proud of all of Team Penske for digging down and finding what we need to find midway through the season to get us where we’re at today,” he said.
“It’s no secret that we struggled in the summer months, not being where we wanted to be and even more the start of the playoffs. We were struggling a little bit and trying to find speed.
“We put out heads down and we really put together a good eight weeks to put us in this position, especially the last couple weeks at Miami and Las Vegas. We’ve done an absolutely amazing job at finding speed and executing amazing races.”
Race winner Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang in victory lane
Blaney kicked off the semifinal round of the playoffs with a solid sixth at Las Vegas then followed that up with a superb performance Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he dueled Bell for the win all the way to the checkered flag and finished as runner up.
Thanks to bad races at Homestead by fellow playoff drivers Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., that left Blaney in the top four of the standings heading to Martinsville.
It’s by no means a viable safety net but given Blaney’s track record at Martinsville – he hasn’t finished worse than 11th in his last nine races there – he enters Sunday’s race with optimism.
“I feel fairly decent about it. We’ve run pretty decent there in the past,” Blaney said. “It’s nice to have run well in the past at places you’re going to, but I don’t think you can fully rely on that.
“Things change. We have a different tire this weekend. The track changes, cars change. It’s important you utilize what you’ve learned in the past that made you good, but you can’t put all your chips into that basket.
“You have to continue to evolve and learn, both from a driver’s side, a set-up side, and what we’ve learned at short tracks this year.”