2021 Season in Review: Ryan Blaney

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CREW CHIEF: Todd Gordon

TEAM: Team Penske

POINTS: Seventh in NASCAR Cup Series

WINS: Three (Atlanta I, Michigan, Daytona II)

LAPS LED: 423

TOP 5s: 11

TOP 10s: 20

QUALIFIED FIRST: Once (Darlington II)

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Coming off a surprise first-round playoff exit in 2020 and fed up with being, as he put it, “the third guy at [Team] Penske,” Ryan Blaney turned in his strongest season to date.

For the first time in his Cup career, Blaney recorded multiple wins in a season. His three victories all had high drama: Hunting down and passing Kyle Larson late to win at Atlanta in March; narrowly holding off William Byron at Michigan after a mad dash to the finish; and closing the regular season with an overtime win at Daytona the following week.

Blaney also maintained good consistency in 2021. His 20 top-10 finishes and average finish of 11.9 in 2021 were new career highs for him. He also posted 11 top-five finishes for the third consecutive season.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Blaney’s hopes of reaching the Championship 4 took a big blow in the Round of 8 playoff race at Kansas. With less than 50 laps to go, contact from a wayward Austin Dillon put Blaney in the Turn 2 wall and out of the race.

At the time of the incident, Blaney was 26 points above the cutline to advance. He left Kansas one point behind Kyle Busch for the final transfer spot, setting up a tense cut race the following week at Martinsville. Unfortunately for Blaney, he largely struggled that afternoon in finishing 11th, which wasn’t enough to put him into the title finale at Phoenix.

Before that cut race, Martinsville was already the site of Blaney’s biggest near-miss in 2021. There in April, Blaney won both stages and led a season-high 157 laps. But just as he looked poised to battle Denny Hamlin for a grandfather clock, Blaney drew a pit road penalty on his final stop. He could only recover to finish 11th – the same spot he ended up at Martinsville in November.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2022: With Todd Gordon’s retirement, Blaney will have a new crew chief next season in Jonathan Hassler. Hassler comes over from Penske-aligned Wood Brothers Racing, where he was crew chief for Matt DiBenedetto during the second half of this season.

Blaney has a chance to make himself Penske’s No. 1 driver following Brad Keselowski’s jump to RFK Racing. But while he’s a playoff regular, he still has to figure out how to finally reach the Championship 4. He’s never gone beyond the Round of 8 in the post-season, having now been eliminated there on three occasions.