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Ryan Blaney is in the Championship 4, a place he’s never previously been in his eight full-time seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series. Many consider Blaney the favorite to win his first title out in Phoenix because of his recent run of success in the last six weeks of the playoffs, including wins at Talladega and Martinsville and, equally impressive, his consistent top-5 finishes over the last two seasons in the Next Gen car on the desert track. 

The Team Penske driver’s performance is a far cry from what Kyle Petty had to say about Blaney at the start of the 2023 campaign. The NBC analyst was none too kind in March, boldly suggesting that the 29-year-old driver had not lived up to his potential, comparing him to Kasey Kahne. That driver comparison at the time was wonky based on the numbers, but Blaney’s results this year make the argument sound even more ridiculous.    

Ryan Blaney recorded solid career statistics before 2023  

Ryan Blaney won in the Truck Series. He won in the Xfinity Series. He’s followed that same pattern in the Cup Series, where he first started driving full-time in 2016 with the Wood Brothers. Blaney earned his first trip to Victory Lane the following year with a win at Pocono.

He shifted over to Team Penske in 2018 and has been a model of consistency since. Blaney scored six wins in his first five seasons, including the Charlotte Roval, a pair at Talladega, and three in 2021, his breakout season, at Atlanta, Michigan, and Daytona.  

Those victories and consistently running near the front of the field have allowed him to impressively finish inside the top 10 in the points standings each year. 

Last season, the first year of the Next Gen car, many experts expected the No. 12 team to build on the 2021 performance.

Blaney started strong, registering four top-5s in the season’s first 10 races, but went winless during that same stretch. That would become a trend for the 2022 season — solid runs with great finishes but no trophies to show for it.

Kyle Petty calls out Blaney for not living up to potential

After last year’s winless season, Blaney started the 2023 campaign slow, with an eighth-place finish in the season-opening race at Daytona, followed by a 26th at Fontana and 13th at Las Vegas. 

Kyle Petty discussed the Penske driver’s performance during an appearance on the NASCAR on NBC podcast in early March and, unsurprisingly, didn’t hold back.  

“I look at the Fords, and I look at Penske, and I look at Joey and Ryan Blaney,” Petty said. “For me — I’m going, to be honest, man — Ryan Blaney is the new Kasey Kahne. Potential unfulfilled. Everybody wants to talk about what he can do, but he never does anything for whatever reason. For whatever reason, he just never gets past that hump.”

Blaney has made Petty eat his words

The Blaney–Kahne comparison was an odd one. While Kahne won 18 times in his 14 full-time seasons, including six times in 2006, he only finished inside the top 10 final points standings three times. 

Conversely, Blaney had seven wins at the start of this year when Petty made his remarks but had recorded six consecutive top-10 results in the final standings. That’s already a considerable disparity in favor of the No. 12 driver. 

Interestingly, just days after Petty’s much-publicized criticism, Blaney finished runner-up at Phoenix, his third consecutive top 5 at the track, including a second in last year’s season finale behind eventual champion and teammate Joey Logano and a fourth place the first time there in the Next Gen car early in 2022. It was a precursor of things to come. 

Since that race, he’s earned 16 top-10s, six inside the top 5, and, most importantly, three wins, including the Coca-Cola 600 — a crown jewel Kahne won three times — and twice in the postseason. 

Blaney has gotten over the hump Petty mentioned and made the broadcaster eat his own words. Capturing the championship would be the cherry on top.

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