Blaney has to weigh risk versus reward in next five races

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - JULY 30: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Moen Ford, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 30, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

With five races left in the NASCAR Cup Series regular season, Ryan Blaney finds himself in an uncomfortable position, one that may require risk/reward calculations in every event.

Fourteen different drivers already have won races this season, and that’s the surest path to a berth in the series’ 10-event Playoff. Blaney is the highest-ranking driver among those who haven’t won races, 22 points ahead of Martin Truex Jr., who currently holds the last Playoff-eligible position.

If there are no more unique winners in the next five races, both Blaney and Truex are likely to qualify for the Playoff on points. But as Blaney knows, there are no guarantees.

“The easiest but hardest thing to do is win, and I could stop talking about it, but we’ve been trying all year,” Blaney said Saturday morning before practice and qualifying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. “Hopefully, we can get it done and not have to worry about it, but you just have to be in the back of your head of realizing that you’re still points racing Martin – we are – for the final (spot).

“You don’t want to be on the bubble if there’s no new winners, and obviously you want to try and win the race, so it’s a balancing act, especially the two road courses that we have (Indianapolis and Watkins Glen). Do you pit? Do you take the stage points to try to keep a good gap to the 19 (Truex), or if you think your car can win do you try to cycle to the lead?

“So, it’s kind of situational, I feel like. We talk about all these scenarios throughout the week and in our pre-race meetings, but at the end of the day, the main focus is trying to win the race and just doing all you can to try and make that one happen.”

Blaney qualified sixth for Sunday’s race.