Why Ryan Blaney Is the Clear-Cut Favorite at Phoenix and It’s Not Even Close
But the Team Penske driver has elevated his game late this postseason. Heading into Sunday’s Championship 4 race, he’s now not only a contender but also a favorite to earn his first title.
In addition, a closer look at the No. 12 and his fellow competitors’ numbers at Phoenix in the Next Gen car gives even more reason to believe the 29-year-old will be the first to cross the finish line at Phoenix and hoist his first Bill France Cup.
Ryan Blaney is hot at the right time
Ryan Blaney didn’t come into the 2023 postseason with much momentum. In the final 10 races before the playoffs, his best showings were ninth-place finishes at Atlanta, Michigan, and Watkins Glen. Also included in that time were a pair of DNFs and two other finishes worse than 30th.
This year’s Coca-Cola 600 winner didn’t start the postseason in impressive fashion, either. In the first four races, Blaney managed only a ninth in the playoff-opening race at Darlington, followed by finishes of 12th (Kansas), 22nd (Bristol), and 28th (Texas).
Since that race in the Lone Star State, the Penske pilot has seemingly flipped a switch and has been the best of the remaining four drivers in the title hunt, scoring three top-five finishes, including wins at Talladega and Martinsville.
During that same time, William Byron is equal to Blaney in top-5s at three, but his best finish is a pair of runner-up results at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval. Christopher Bell has a pair of top-5s, including his win at Homestead. And Kyle Larson, who has made headlines for contentious chats, rounds out the field with one top-5 — his win at Las Vegas.
Blaney best at Phoenix in Next Gen car
|Driver||Phoenix Races in Next Gen Car||Average Phoenix Finish|
|Ryan Blaney||4th, 2nd, 2nd||2.7|
|William Byron||18th, 6th, 1st||8.3|
|Christopher Bell||26th, 10th, 6th||14.0|
|Kyle Larson||34th, 9th, 4th||15.7|
While Blaney is the hottest of the four coming into the championship race, he’s also got another set of numbers working in his favor.
Since the debut of the Next Gen car to start the 2022 season, the No. 12 driver has been outstanding at Phoenix.
In that first race in March 2022, he finished fourth. Incredibly, that is his worst finish on the mile-long track in the new car. Since then, he’s recorded a pair of runner-ups, including last year’s season finale and this year’s first visit to the circuit. Combined, Blaney has an average finish at Phoenix of 2.7.
His competition, while good, isn’t that good.
William Byron has a victory, finishing ahead of Blaney this March, but he also has an 18th. His average finish is 8.3. Christopher Bell has a pair of top-10s at Phoenix, including a 10th and sixth in his last two races, but also has a 26th. His average finishing position is 14.0.
Kyle Larson and his fans have fond memories of Phoenix because that’s where he won his first title in 2021. But that was in the previous car. In the Next Gen, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has a pair of top-10s in the last two races, ninth to end last year and fourth earlier this year. He finished 34th in the first trip in the new car to produce an average finish of 15.7.
Who wins at Phoenix?
One other thing of note on Ryan Blaney and Phoenix.
His finishing position in the desert is top of the four remaining drivers. Interestingly, by most accounts, it could actually be better.
As mentioned, he finished second in last year’s season-ending race. Most believe he had the best car and could have won but followed team orders and allowed Penske teammate Joey Logano to win the race and the championship.
This season, the script could be flipped with Logano out of the playoffs. However, based on how the No. 12 has performed over the last six weeks of the playoffs, coupled with how he’s run at the track over the last three races, he won’t need any help.