If you have ever been involved in auto racing, either as a competitor or a fan, you’ve heard this old adage: “I’d rather be lucky than good.” Ryan Blaney has been good for most of the 2022 NASCAR season. But after 25 weeks of racing, Blaney had not secured a spot in the Cup Series playoffs. It took would take one final week, a wild race at Daytona International Speedway and a healthy dose of luck to clinch Blaney’s spot in the postseason.
Perhaps Blaney has been generally unlucky for the last six months. His only victory of 2022 remains a controversial win in the All-Star Race back in May. Through all the points-paying races, Blaney and the No. 12 team just couldn’t find a way to be first across the finish line.
That put Blaney in a vulnerable position heading to Daytona as the only driver above the playoff cut line without a victory. A new winner would have barred him from the postseason despite sitting third in overall points.
Yet fortune began to fall Blaney’s way as early as Thursday (Aug. 25) when Kurt Busch and 23XI Racing asked NASCAR to pull Busch’s playoff waiver. Still battling symptoms from a concussion last month, Busch knew he would not be in a position to compete for the title and elected not to take up a spot in the playoffs, despite having technically qualified for them.
While seeing Busch miss the championship chase in such a way is an unfortunate situation, he deserves the respect and support of everyone in the industry for making a difficult, and classy, decision. Busch’s playoff withdrawal also took considerable pressure off of Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., the last two drivers who could have reached the playoffs on points.
But Blaney was not out of the woods. A long, rainy Saturday night in Daytona gave way to clearer skies and a green flag late on Sunday morning. As the first stage wound down, Blaney raced his way into the top 10. But disaster struck on lap 31 when the No. 12 was collected in a multi-car accident on the backstretch. While Blaney’s crew worked hard to keep him in the race and meet minimum speed, the car could not maintain sufficient pace to be competitive.
As the race continued on, Truex racked up stage points, slashing away at the 25-point deficit to Blaney with which he began the race. Truex himself got tangled up in a lap 102 crash which appeared to tip the scales back in Blaney’s favor.
But the race really turned on its head on lap 138 when a cloudburst over turn 1 triggered a massive wreck that knocked out most of the remaining competitive cars. Austin Dillon secured the lead, Truex slipped through with little additional damage and the rain began to pour under caution.
Had the race ended under the red flag, Dillon (a new winner) and Truex (up by 13 points on Blaney) would have taken the last two playoff spots. It would have been very easy for NASCAR to call the race at that point, which would have dealt a fatal blow to Blaney’s playoff hopes. Considering their bad luck for most of the year, such an ending would have been par for the course for the No. 12 team.
However, the race did not end there. The storms moved away, NASCAR dried the track and the race was back on.
Somehow, Blaney still had a chance.
Over the final green flag run, Blaney was able to pass many of the drivers who had crashed out on lap 138. Truex was among the 10 cars on the lead lap, but the No. 19 simply had too much damage to hang with the other fast cars. When Dillon took the checkered flag, the No. 12 had passed enough wrecked machines to jump ahead of Truex by three points.
The final playoff spot officially went to Blaney.
“It was not a good day getting going,” Blaney said after the race. “You get tore up early, and at that point, our fate was not really in our hands. All we could do was try to keep working on it and fix it to where we could make laps. Thankfully, we were able to get enough cars throughout the wrecks that we kind of just kept moving up and were able to get in.”
Looking back on the past week, it is simply amazing what had to happen for Blaney to reach the playoffs. If Busch hadn’t declined his playoff waiver, Blaney would be out. Had NASCAR ended the race at the lap 139 red flag, Blaney would have been out. You could even argue that the lap 31 crash actually benefitted Blaney in the end, because he wasn’t racing with the pack when everybody crashed in the rain on lap 138.
Likewise, things could have worked out in Truex’s favor just as easily. The No. 19 team never would have been in a vulnerable spot had Truex been able to win at New Hampshire last month. Truex also had a shot to win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway back in March before a late caution and overtime restart shook up the field.
It’s not like Truex and Blaney had dramatically different seasons. After 26 races, they were separated by only three points. But since the last break fell Blaney’s way, he will be the one racing for a championship in in the final weeks of the season.
If we can take away any lesson from the past week in NASCAR, it should be that Lady Luck is undefeated. Certainly, the competitors in the NASCAR Cup Series are professionals to the core, and each team does its best to prepare for whatever circumstances arise on and off the track. But Blaney and Truex would tell you that no racecar driver is totally in control of their fate, especially at Daytona.
Sometimes, success in NASCAR really does come down to how lucky you are.
About the author
Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past six years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and aspiring motorsports historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southwest Florida.