After his performance the past five races, there is a good chance Ryan Blaney will win his first Cup Series championship.
Blaney's Path to the Championship 4
Blaney qualified for the playoffs with his win in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.
In the Round of 16, Blaney started the playoffs with a 9th place finish at Darlington Raceway. He would follow that up with two runs outside the top 10 at Kansas Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway. Despite those two mediocre runs, Blaney was able to point his way into the Round of 12.
In the Round of 12, Blaney was in a hole to start as he crashed on lap 258 at Texas Motor Speedway and finished 28th, putting him dead last on the playoff grid. Blaney stormed back the next week and won at Talladega Superspeedway to lock his way into the Round of 8.
The Round of 8 had a better start for Blaney. He finished 6th, but was still sitting 17 points below the cutline. Initially, Blaney was disqualified for the left front shock not meeting the required height and this left Blaney 56 points below the cutline. This penalty was rescinded the next day as there was a malfunction in the equipment NASCAR used to inspect the shocks. The No. 12 showed up at Homestead-Miami Speedway with one of the fastest cars and he finished 2nd to put himself 10 points above the cutline. With a spot in the Championship 4 on the line, Blaney and the No. 12 team came out and dominated at Martinsville, leading 145 laps on his way to a victory and a Championship 4 berth.
On top of the car he goes!
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 29, 2023
Why Blaney Will Win the Championship
Momentum can take you so many places and right now all the momentum is with Blaney and the No. 12 team. According to the sportsbooks, Blaney is listed as tied for the second-best odds (with William Byron) to win it all at +250.
Blaney just had the fastest car and won on the short track at Martinsville. Phoenix Raceway races like a short track, so all signs point towards the No. 12 team bringing a fast car for Blaney at Phoenix.
Many people would argue that Blaney had the best car at Phoenix last fall and he didn't win in order to let his teammate, Joey Logano, win the championship. Blaney backed that run up with a 2nd place finish at Phoenix in the spring of this year. Put those together with his 4th in the 2022 spring race, and Blaney has an average finish of 2.66 at Phoenix in the Next Gen car.
There have been two instances where the winner of the last race in the Round of 8 has gone on to win the championship the week after (Kevin Harvick 2014; Chase Elliott 2020). Blaney can become the third person to do it this weekend.
Lack of experience in the championship 4 may not be a disadvantage for Blaney. Out of the nine seasons with the playoff/elimination format, five times the champion was in their first Championship 4 appearance.
Why Blaney Will Not Win the Championship
With all the momentum the No. 12 team has, the team still has to execute quick pit stops without making a mistake and avoid trouble on the track, whether it be contact with another car or some sort of mechanical malfunction. Momentum will only take you so far and the team has been streaky this season.
There have been 12 races this season that Blaney has finished outside the top 20. He has had multiple three race stretches where he failed to finish inside the top 20. Blaney has not finished inside the top 10 in four consecutive races this season and he would have to do it to win his first championship as he rides a three-race top 10 streak going into Phoenix.
One more reason Blaney might not win it this weekend is his pit crew. There were multiple pit stops at Martinsville where Blaney lost positions and that will not cut it on Sunday. There is a good chance that the leader off of pit road on the final pit stop on Sunday will be your champion. It just seems like the Hendrick Motorsports pit crews for Kyle Larson and Byron have outperformed the No. 12 team.
If you get Blaney out front with a long green flag run to end the race, it will tough to beat him. Great pit stops and long green flag runs will be the name of the game for the No. 12 team on Sunday. Put those two together and Ryan Blaney will be your 2023 NASCAR Cup Series champion.
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