As we near the first quarter mark of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Ryan Blaney is in the midst of a breakout season.
His 2016 rookie campaign included three top fives and nine top-10 finishes. This is respectable for a rookie driver and would have won him rookie of the year honors any other season, but Chase Elliott finished with 10 top fives and 17 top-10’s.
Naturally, the expectations for Blaney going into 2017 were roughly the same. But eight races in, he already has three top-10 finishes, compared to one at this point in 2016, and one top-five where he none at this point last year. He’s also led 150 laps this season, compared to none at this juncture last year.
He opened the season with a runner-up finish in the Daytona 500 despite running out of gas.
His breakout race of the season came during the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway where he led 148 of 334 laps, the most laps of the race and more laps in that race alone than he led in his career combined, and won the first two stages. On his final pit stop, however, he slid through his pit stall and wound up finishing 12th.
Power steering issues took him out of contention this past Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
He comes back to Richmond International Raceway, where he was a non-factor in both races last season, which he describes as “a big test to see how we are.”
While Blaney hasn’t finished top-10 since Auto Club a few weeks ago, he says the season so far is off to “a good start.”
“I feel like we have had really fast cars and I feel like all the bad finishes we have had have been with really fast cars but things just went wrong,” Blaney said. “Whether it is our doing or out of our control. We have to clean that up the best we can. I feel like the biggest thing is that we have had super fast cars. Last week we had a really fast race car and had our own troubles there with the power steering issue. This race track here, honestly I think was our worst last year out of all of them. It will be a big test to see how we are this weekend.”