Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney need to make NASCAR history Saturday night to move on to the second round of the playoffs.
It’s that simple.
Never has a Cup driver advanced after being as far back from a transfer spot entering a cutoff race as either.
DiBenedetto goes into Bristol 25 points behind Clint Bowyer, who holds the final transfer spot. Blaney trails Bowyer by 27 points.
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“It definitely stinks going to Bristol being so far back and probably having to win the race,” Blaney told NBCSN after last weekend’s Richmond race.
But there is hope for Blaney and DiBenedetto heading into this weekend’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
Three times since the elimination-style format debuted in 2014 a driver at least 20 points behind entering a cutoff race advanced.
Kevin Harvick went into the 2015 first-round elimination race at Dover 23 points out of a transfer spot. He won. Harvick went on to make it to the championship race.
Chase Elliott entered last year’s second-round elimination race at Kansas 22 points behind the last transfer spot. He finished second. Aided by 15 stage points, he advanced. Elliott’s playoffs, though, ended in the following round.
Denny Hamlin entered last year’s third-round elimination race at Phoenix 20 points behind the last transfer spot. He won to advance to the championship race.
Blaney has a checkered past at Bristol Motor Speedway. He’s led 439 laps there, most of any track. But his average finish is 20.7, worse than every track but Richmond and the Daytona road course.
Blaney has led more than 100 laps in three of the last five Bristol races. He’s scored three top 10s in that stretch.
In April 2018, Blaney led 100 of the first 117 laps before he was collected in a crash. He led 121 laps and won stage 1 in the 2018 night race, but his chances of winning ended with a loose wheel in the last stage. He led 158 laps before finishing fourth in the 2019 spring race there.
Blaney led 60 laps in May and was second to teammate Brad Keselowski when Blaney’s car got out of the high groove and bounced off the wall. His car spun and came to stop. Ty Dillon couldn’t avoid him and hit Blaney’s car, ripping off the nose. Blaney finished last.
“I don’t really think that he is going to be able to point himself in, but I think he can win himself in,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton said on this week’s Splash and Go (video above). “Of everybody that we’re talking about, he is the guy that I think has enough speed and has shown me at Bristol to have enough speed where he can win this race and advance into the next round. … I think this is an opportunity for Ryan and his team to step up to the plate and find a way in a big moment on a big stage to move themselves forward.”
NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty raises questions about if Blaney can overcome his deficit.
“What concerns me about Ryan Blaney and that team is exactly some of the points you brought up,” Petty told Burton. “They’ve had speed. They’ve led races. They’ve run up front and they’ve given it away in stage three almost every time. They should be sitting here, I feel, with at least three to four wins on regular race tracks. … And they won a (superspeedway race) by about a half inch and that’s all they have to show for their regular season.”
DiBenedetto seeks his first career Cup win. It nearly came at Bristol last year when he finished second to Hamlin that night.
“If there is one track to be in a must-win situation that I would choose it would definitely be Bristol,” DiBenedetto said after Richmond. “I think we have a good shot at it.”