NASCAR Barometer: Blaney Seizes All-Star Success

NASCAR Barometer: Blaney Seizes All-Star Success

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Ryan Blaney and Team Penske grabbed the spotlight in Sunday night's NASCAR All-Star Race. It was Blaney's first All-Star victory and he dominated the final stages to earn it on a night when tires were the story. Multiple teams suffered tire failures, which caused crashes and took would-be contenders out of the running. Blaney's victory comes in a season where luck has not been on his side. He is the only Penske driver not to have a regular-season win, as the team has been challenged in capitalizing on their speed to claim wins. While Sunday's victory doesn't count toward the playoffs, it does give him and the team confidence that they can get the job done, and it also comes with a nice million-dollar check to help the pocketbook. 

Up next is a return to the regular-season battle with NASCAR's longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Kyle Larson dominated that race last season, but Penske's Fords will bring all of the momentum into the race weekend. The similarity between the two circuits suggest tires will be a concern again this week, which could make the marathon race a night of attrition.

UPGRADE

Ryan Blaney – Blaney is still hunting for his first points victory of 2022, but that didn't stop him from making the turn into Victory Lane and collecting the million-dollar prize in Sunday's All-Star Race. The Team Penske driver struggled with handling throughout the race, but he managed to keep his car at the front

Ryan Blaney and Team Penske grabbed the spotlight in Sunday night's NASCAR All-Star Race. It was Blaney's first All-Star victory and he dominated the final stages to earn it on a night when tires were the story. Multiple teams suffered tire failures, which caused crashes and took would-be contenders out of the running. Blaney's victory comes in a season where luck has not been on his side. He is the only Penske driver not to have a regular-season win, as the team has been challenged in capitalizing on their speed to claim wins. While Sunday's victory doesn't count toward the playoffs, it does give him and the team confidence that they can get the job done, and it also comes with a nice million-dollar check to help the pocketbook. 

Up next is a return to the regular-season battle with NASCAR's longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Kyle Larson dominated that race last season, but Penske's Fords will bring all of the momentum into the race weekend. The similarity between the two circuits suggest tires will be a concern again this week, which could make the marathon race a night of attrition.

UPGRADE

Ryan Blaney – Blaney is still hunting for his first points victory of 2022, but that didn't stop him from making the turn into Victory Lane and collecting the million-dollar prize in Sunday's All-Star Race. The Team Penske driver struggled with handling throughout the race, but he managed to keep his car at the front despite the niggles. He dominated the third stage to claim the segment win and join his teammates to start the final stage on the front row, going on to survive a last-second overtime finish to claim his first All-Star win, guaranteeing himself future entry in the marquee event. Up next on his to-do list will be a regular-season win. He finished third in both Charlotte races in 2020 and finished 13th in last year's 600-mile event.

Austin Cindric – Cindric earned his way into his first All-Star Race by virtue of his Daytona 500 win earlier this season. He went on to solidify his presence by winning the second stage. He went on to use the track position he earned by that stage win to run second for most of the final stage, ultimately finishing his first All-Star appearance third. Cindric has already overachieved in his first full-time season in the Cup Series by winning the biggest race. He and his team have focused on continuing to grow their experience and prepare for the playoffs and his finishes have taken a step forward since Dover, too. This week will be his first Cup Series appearance on Charlotte's oval, but he finished second in the Xfinity race there last season, which was one of three top-10s there in that series from four tries.

Chris Buescher – After finishing third in last year's All-Star Open race, Buescher earned his second All-Star main event appearance after working his way into the lead in the second stage Sunday night. The RFK Racing driver took advantage of a mid-stage caution from Landon Cassill to make up some ground and use his obviously fast car to move into the lead and win the second segment. He then put up a stiff fight in the main event, running inside the top 10 for most of the race, finishing eighth in a confidence-building night before going points racing again this coming week at Charlotte. Buescher is 21st in the standings heading into Memorial Day weekend, and a win is starting to look like a necessity for him to make the playoffs. He is racing well, though, and will look to better his eighth-place finish from last year's Coca-Cola 600.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Stenhouse jumped to the front of the All-Star Open race from the green flag and then never looked back. The JTG Daugherty driver led all 20 laps of the first stage to advance into his fourth All-Star Race. His effort in the showcase event started well and he ran inside the top 10 until he suffered his share of tire problems. A flat rear tire dropped him out of contention in the third stage. Since the incident didn't produce a caution, he lost multiple laps limping to pit road to get the tire changed, ending his chances of All-Star glory. Stenhouse's best Charlotte finish came in 2020 when he finished fourth in the adjusted season's back-to-back races at the oval. He finished 12th in last year's 600-mile race and could threaten for wins as the season moves on.

Special Mention Daniel Suarez topped the final 10-lap sprint to the finish to claim the third transfer spot into Sunday night's All-Star Race. The Trackhouse Racing driver was then fast enough throughout the main event to run consistently inside the top 10, ultimately finishing fifth.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch had everything going his way last weekend at Texas. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver won the knockout qualifying format Saturday to get the top starting spot for Sunday's race. He was also on point when the green flag waved for the race Sunday night, leading all the laps in the opening stage to earn the top starting spot for the final 50-lap segment. All that came to nothing when his car unexpectedly slowed with a tire failure on the front straight. Ross Chastain wasn't able to avoid the faltering machine and clouted the rear of the No. 18 taking both cars out of the race in dramatic fashion. Busch has one victory so far this season, but has been close to another in recent weeks. He won the 2018 Coca-Cola 600.

Ross Chastain – Like most races so far this season, Chastain found himself among the front runners from the start Sunday at Texas. All that changed in an instant when Busch slowed ahead, leaving him nowhere to go as he tried to avoid the slowing car. His contact with the No. 18 sent the No. 1 machine flying into the air and also collected Chase Elliott, taking all three machines out of the race. Chastain has turned usual expectations on their head, outperforming past statistics each week this season. His best finish on the Charlotte oval from four series starts was 21st in 2020. He will have to overcome the shocking exit of last week's All-Star Race, but fantasy players should still expect him to walk away from this coming week's race with a personal best at the circuit.

Kyle Larson – Last year's All-Star victor wasn't able to defend his title. The weekend was a bit of a struggle for Larson, which is abnormal considering his domination of the 2021 season. First, Larson flubbed his start in the knock-out qualifying format, taking him out of contention for the pole position. In the race he opted not to change tires following the first 25-lap segment. That gave him track position, but while racing later in the second stage, he suffered a tire failure that sent him hard into the outside wall and out of the race. Having just one victory so far this season Larson will be anxious to get another and build momentum. He is the defending winner of this coming week's race, though. He dominated the 400-lap event at Charlotte last year with 327 laps spent out front. 

Chase Elliott – Elliott was an unlucky bystander in the biggest accident of Sunday night's All-Star Race. The Hendrick Motorsports driver successfully avoided the slowing Kyle Busch and was on his way through turn 1 when Chastain's car tagged the No. 9 in the rear, sending Elliott into the outside wall. He joined Chastain and Busch on the sidelines for the night. Elliott actually leads the point standings and has a victory under his belt. Like his teammates, he'll want to get another trip or two to Victory Lane to help build confidence and momentum as the regular season picks up steam. The former champion has one prior win on Charlotte's oval from 2020, He also led at least 20 laps in the last four races at the track.

Tyler Reddick – Reddick might have been the biggest disappointment Sunday at Texas. The Richard Childress Racing driver has already had victory slip through his fingers this season. Converting any of those prior chances into a win would have put him into the main event. Then, many would have expected him to be one of the stage victors that advanced. However, his bad luck followed him right into the Open race where he was forced to start at the rear of the field, only to work his way into contention for the lead in the final 10-lap segment and then lose control and crash. With his speed this season it would be a bigger surprise if he fails to win at some point this year. He'll get back on the horse again this week at Charlotte in a race he finished ninth in last season.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Team Penske – After starting the season in the best possible way, winning the Daytona 500 with Austin Cindric, Penske has found wins much more difficult to come by. The organization just grabbed its second victory of the season with Joey Logano at Darlington. Blaney then put the organization back into Victory Lane last weekend at the All-Star Race. In fact, all three Penske drivers finished the exhibition race in the top four positions. In addition to the on-track success, the pit crews also grabbed their share of the spotlight, helping Blaney to the final round of knockout qualifying. Logano's team then collected the $100,000 prize for banging out the fastest stop during the race, all of which combines to give this team the most momentum ahead of NASCAR's longest race. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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