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Winning a grueling Coke 600 showed Blaney 'can still do it'

The wait to finish last weekend’s rain-delayed Coca-Cola 600 was taxing but nothing like the drought Ryan Blaney has endured trying to reach Victory Lane again.

Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, BodyArmor Cherry Lime Ford Mustang wins.

Photo by: Rusty Jarrett / NKP / Motorsport Images

The start of the 600 was delayed a day by rain – pushed to Monday’s Memorial Day holiday for the first time since 2009 – and still threatened with more bad weather when it finally got under way around 3 p.m. ET.

Two more weather delays, 16 cautions and nearly six hours later, Blaney held off William Byron – the hottest driver in the NASCAR Cup Series of late – on a 20-lap green-flag run to the checkered flag.

The pressure lifted from Blaney’s shoulders was noticeable as he became emotional during his post-race interview on the track, following a dive into the frontstretch crowd to celebrate.

The victory – which came with nearly flawless execution in a race that saw little of that trait – ended a 59-race winless streak for Blaney in points-paying races.

That’s not close to any NASCAR record but for Blaney, 29, it seemed quite a surprise after a breakout season in 2021 that saw him win three times and finish a career-high seventh in the series standings.

Race winner Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, Ford Mustang

Race winner Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, Ford Mustang

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

“Sometimes you just get in these streaks of things just aren’t going right, and then you feel like you’re doing everything right, maybe your cars aren’t fast enough to win races or you’re making too many mistakes,” he said. “It can definitely be frustrating.

“It’s easy to get down on yourself when you don’t win. You’ve got to think to yourself, ‘Can I still do it? Can I still compete at a winning level?’ So, it’s easy to kind of doubt yourself.

“But at the end of the day, we all pulled together, and everyone in the No. 12 team did a good job of working on things that we could get better. Yeah, it does feel like an eternity.”

Technically, Blaney had won a race last season – the 2022 All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway.

He came away with the $1 million first prize and hopeful the momentum could translate into the remainder of the regular season.

However, while he remained a consistent performer on the track, he and his No. 12 Penske Ford team could not finish the job with a win as his Penske teammate Joey Logano went on to win his second series championship.

The 2023 season began with hit-or-miss results – he finished second at both Phoenix and Talladega – but his first victory of the year was also the team’s strongest performance of the season.

Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, BodyArmor Cherry Lime Ford Mustang

Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, BodyArmor Cherry Lime Ford Mustang

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

Blaney led a race-high 163 laps, his team had consistently fast pit stops and he repeatedly outdueled Byron, who has three wins on the year and hasn’t finished worse than seventh in the last five races.

“My biggest thing I thought to myself is I’ve got to get back to the front row, and I can then race William for it at least. I think I have a better car than him and I can clear if I can just be even with him,” Blaney said.

“Then once we got the lead with that quick caution (late in the race), I felt even better about it. Then I could pick the restart and pick the top lane and really have him at a deficit.

“I wouldn’t say our car got a lot better, just made good ground on some restarts.”

With a win in hand, Blaney is now locked in the 2023 playoffs which an opportunity to win his first series title.

And a chance to create a winning streak as the series moves to St. Louis this weekend.

“I don’t think I ever thought of like I will never win a race again,” he said. “It’s just you kind of sometimes doubt your abilities when things don’t go your way or you make mistakes, like, ‘Gosh, I’m getting really kind of messy with the way I’m doing things.’

“I was very excited (after the win) because I haven’t won in a long time, and it was the 600. So, I was pretty pumped up.”

And will he celebrate with the fans again in the future?

“Yeah, that was a special moment. That was really cool to do,” he said. “I’ll have to do that more often if I get fortunate to win, hopefully not in 59 races or something like that.”

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