Dr. Diandra: Data points to speed as key to breaking Blaney’s losing streak
Richmond Raceway presents a chance for Ryan Blaney to break a losing streak that started after his win at the regular-season-ending Daytona race in 2021. A fast scan of his stats suggests Blaney is off to a good start to do just that in 2023.
Despite a poor showing at COTA, where he failed to run any higher than 16th all race, Blaney has a season average finishing position of 12.8. He’s tied with Kevin Harvick for fourth-best average finishing position among full-time drivers.
Blaney finished second at Phoenix, where the new short track aeropackage debuted. But he has not won.
Things look good on the surface
Before getting too worried by Blaney’s drought, remember that the season is only six races old. Two of those six races were superspeedway events, and a third was a road course where running through other cars has become the norm.
With 30 more races in the season, it’s far from time to hit the panic button.
Basic statistics suggest that Blaney is matching (and sometimes beating) his teammate, defending champion Joey Logano. I’ve included the statistics for sophomore driver Austin Cindric in the table below, as well.
Cindric has two top-10 finishes and an average finish of 16.5. His best finishes are sixth-place finishes at Las Vegas and last week at COTA.
After the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 100-point penalty assessed to each Hendrick Motorsports driver and team, Ryan Blaney occupies eighth place in the season points standings.
Things would appear to look good for breaking Blaney’s losing streak this year.
But a different pattern emerges upon diving into the loop data. The next table compares more detailed statistics for all three Penske drivers. I’ve highlighted the lowest-scoring driver’s numbers in red for each metric.
Cindric lags his more experienced teammates in number of laps led, number of fastest laps and number of laps run in the top 15. But in the other stats, Blaney is the third out of three at Penske.
Average running position measures driver performance across all laps of a race, instead of just the last one. Blaney’s best average running position of the season was at Phoenix, with a 7.47. His worst was last week at COTA, where his average running position was 29.28. Apart from Phoenix, Blaney didn’t break the top 10 in average running position at any race this year.
The average speed-on-restarts rank compares a driver’s average speed in the first two laps of each green-flag run to other drivers’ speeds. Blaney ranks 32nd out of 35 full-time drivers in average restart speed rank. That places him behind Logano and Cindric.
Speed early in a run and speed late in a run measure a driver’s speed compared to everyone else on track during the first and last 25% of each green-flag run. In both metrics, Blaney again ranks 32 out of 35.
The fact that top-ranking Penske driver Logano only ranks 12th and 16th in early and late speed respectively suggests that the problem is at least partly company wide.
In overall green-flag speed — the average speed over a full green-flag run — Blaney ranks 29th out of 35. Logano ranks 12th and Cindric 19th.
These numbers identify one challenge that must be overcome to break Blaney’s losing streak.
Year over year
I’ll set aside Cindric’s numbers in this section for the sake of clarity. Blaney’s first six races this year show a large drop-off in most metrics relative to the first six races of 2022. Logano, however, either improved or stayed relatively constant in the same metrics.
In the table below:
- Green indicates a 10% or better improvement in 2023.
- Red indicates the 2023 value is at least 10% worse.
- Black indicates a change (either way) less than 10%.
Blaney has led a little more than 10% of the laps he led in 2022 and has less than half the number of fastest laps. His drop-offs on the speed metrics (the last four rows) are much greater than Logano’s changes.
In 2022, Blaney was beating Logano in all four speed metrics. This year, Logano is ahead.
The Promise of Richmond
The encouraging news to pull from this analysis is that Blaney’s numbers for Phoenix are the best of the 2023 season so far. He ranked seventh in green-flag speed, second in restart rank, eight in early-run speed and fourth in late-run speed. All of that bodes well for a good finish at Richmond.
Blaney won the pole in last spring’s Richmond race and finished seventh. He finished 10th in the fall race after qualifying 10th.
And Blaney himself is optimistic.
“Richmond will be a good gauge of where you stack up – slow, a bunch of mechanical grip, tire conservation,” Blaney said. “So I’m optimistic for it, for sure. I thought we had good cars there last year in both races from the whole team, and I’m excited to get there.”
But breaking Blaney’s losing streak is only the start to a successful season. He must improve his speed metrics at other tracks if he is to contend for a championship.