Life was on the upswing for Ryan Blaney as summer passed in 2021. He was coming off back-to-back victories as the NASCAR Playoffs began. That momentum wore off, though, and he finished seventh in the season standings.
The following year was a bag of mixed emotions for Blaney. He grabbed a career-best 12 top-five finishes but failed to win a race for the first time since 2016.
All of that is what made his Coca-Cola 600 victory on Monday so much sweeter. The passion and relief on the 29-year-old driver‘s face as he celebrated was the culmination of everything he has been through since last visiting Victory Lane.
It would be easy to look at Blaney‘s career and try to put down his eight victories over his 284 starts. The history book shows that there was another driver, one recently named one of the 75 Greatest Drivers of all time, that had the start of his career comparable to what Blaney has achieved so far.
It‘s fitting that the driver is Kevin Harvick, given that it was Harvick whom Blaney held off to earn his first career victory in 2017 at Pocono Raceway. Harvick came into the Cup Series under the toughest circumstances in 2001, filling the seat of the late Dale Earnhardt. He famously found success quickly, holding off Jeff Gordon to win in just his third start at Atlanta. Growing pains soon hit as he ended his fifth season with five wins and three finishes of 14th or worse in points.
Each driver found a mix of success and struggles through their first 284 starts, but there was no question the potential was there.
Take a look.
Average points finish
Harvick has the slight edge in the wins department, but Blaney has him beat in every other category. It‘s also noteworthy to mention that at the time of their respective 284th starts, Harvick was 32 years old, and Blaney was 29. A 34-year-old Harvick had 12 wins after 339 starts before his dominance really took over.
That realistically gives Blaney almost two full seasons to grab four more victories to match Harvick, which is more than realistic for the driver who is currently one point behind the series leader Ross Chastain.
As Harvick‘s legendary career slowly comes to a close, it‘s just a little poetic that another young star sits at almost the exact same spot that Harvick once did. Will Blaney be able to channel his “inner Harvick” and turn those top fives into victories, moving up the all-time ranks in the process? That seems to be a given with the speed and talent he possesses on almost every type of track on the schedule.
The real question is how high Blaney will climb by the time he hangs up his helmet at the conclusion of his career.