When it comes to winless streaks, Ryan Blaney is the new Kevin Harvick.
Blaney’s winless streak is the second longest of any driver in the Cup Series at 54 races. Brad Keselowski has gone 70 races without a win; however, he also switched teams last year and his new team is still rebuilding.
Blaney was the only driver who made the playoffs last year without a win. Even though he had more stage wins than anyone else in 2022, he was eliminated in the Round of Eight.
Blaney is too good a driver — with too good a team — not to break his winless streak. The question, of course, is: “when?”
Blaney’s average finishing position in 2023 is 15.8, which is 10th best among full-time drivers. Those finishes are inconsistent: Four top-15s and four finishes of 21st or worse. Blaney attributes some of that to Ford’s nose, which the engineers are still fine-tuning. But the team also created some of its own problems.
“At Fontana, I thought we were super-fast,” Blaney said, “and had two bad pit stops and wrecked. Vegas we were decent and ended up having a bad pit call at the end.”
Blaney’s best finish this year came at a short track: He earned second place at Phoenix with a 7.5 average running position.
“I feel like we’ve been, probably, a little closer at short tracks than at the bigger tracks as far as competitiveness,” Blaney said of this season’s outings.
That Phoenix finish is one reason I suggested two weeks ago that Richmond was Blaney’s best chance to win. It was — until his crew left a wrench in the car during a pit stop, putting him down a lap. The No. 12 finished 26th at Richmond.
The good news is that Blaney is strong at Martinsville. In 14 starts, Blaney has seven top-five finishes and a career average finish of 9.7. Those finishes include 11th or better in the last eight Martinsville races and no DNFs.
He’s even better at Martinsville in the Next Gen car, as the graph below confirms.
Blaney’s average finish at the two 2022 Martinsville races was the best of any driver who ran both races. His 3.5 average finish puts him just ahead of defending Cup Series champion Joey Logano and last year’s spring race winner William Byron. Byron and Logano each have a 4.0 average finish.
Along with Ross Chastain, Blaney, Byron and Logano set themselves off from the rest of the pack. After Chastain’s 4.5 average finish, the next-best average finish is Chase Briscoe with a 9.0.
Blaney was good at Martinsville before the Next Gen, too
Below, I summarize drivers’ average finishes at Martinsville in: 2022, the two years before the Next Gen car was introduced, and all three years combined.
Note that Chastain and Bell both changed teams during the period this graph covers, and Larson didn’t run Martinsville at all in 2020.
This table shows that Blaney and Logano are the two best drivers at Martinsville, regardless of what car they’re racing.
Chase Elliott comes in third in average finish position across all three years; however, his average finishing position was worse last year rather than up. Blaney and Logano’s average finishing positions improved.
This season’s races have featured a lot of position changes in the last 10% of the laps. While being up front near the end of the race doesn’t guarantee a win, not being up front precludes gaining positions in any end-of-race chaos.
Avoiding accidents is harder at a small track like Martinsville than at larger tracks. Blaney has already been involved in five caution-causing accidents in this season’s eight races. That includes two accidents at Daytona and one each at Auto Club, Richmond and COTA.
Pit road hiccups remain a potential minefield. The likelihood of another penalty for removing equipment from the pit box penalty is low, but Martinsville’s pit road is very easy to speed on.
The biggest threats, of course, are other drivers. Byron, Logano and Chastain are obvious contenders. But watch for two other drivers whose 2022 seasons kept them off my graph and table.
Kyle Busch had one of the weakest years of his career in 2022, which included an 18.0 average finish at Martinsville. But he has a 10.0 average finish from 2020-21 and has won Martinsville twice (in 2016 and 2017).
Martin Truex Jr posted a 21.0 average finish at Martinsville in 2022. But Truex’s average finish from 2020-21 was just 7.0. He won three out of four Martinsville races from fall 2019 to spring 2021. Truex, who has the third longest winless streak at 52 races, also won this year’s Busch Clash.
The missing element
Although Blaney typically runs well at short tracks, he has yet to win at one. That might be a good thing: According to Racing Insights, five out of the last seven Martinsville winners had never won in the Cup Series at the paper-clip track before.
Then there’s one more element Blaney cites as essential for breaking his winless streak.
“I’d like our luck to be a little bit better,” he said. ‘I’d like not to get wrecked at the end of these things.”