Blaney has only been to victory lane one time this season, which was here at Texas Motor Speedway. There were no points awarded for the event, so the Team Penske driver did not earn any playoff points that night. The good news is he is one of the 12 remaining playoff drivers ready to do battle tomorrow.

Ryan survived Bristol last weekend after a multitude of problems developed for the No. 12 team. They had a tire go down that put them in the wall, then something under the car was bent and the team spent nearly half of the race making repairs. They ultimately got their Mustang back on track and were able to score enough points to stay above the cutoff line as other contenders fell on their faces with their own issues.

NASCAR issued a penalty for the left-rear wheel that came off the No. 12 car at Bristol, which would suspend crew chief Jonathan Hassler and two crew members for four races. The team filed an appeal, which even if it gets denied, would not take effect until next week at Talladega.

The decision to file the appeal was an excellent strategic move. "It’s important to keep those guys for this week," Blaney said. "We all know how important pit stops are here and how hard it is to pass, and strategy will come into play. It’s good to have Jonathan on the box and good to have those guys in the pits."

Blaney has won a race every year since 2017 but it has been a very strange season for everyone. While most drivers would understandably be frustrated, Blaney has kept his cool.

"I don’t think it’s frustrating. It stinks when you lead laps and win stages and don’t end up winning the race. That’s a bummer, but we’re running fast. I’d much rather be leading laps, running up front and not being able to close out the win than be running 20th every week. There are definitely worse problems to have, so I’m not frustrated by any means."

Although he has never won a points-paying race here, Blaney has a solid track record at Texas. In his last seven starts here Blaney has six top-ten finishes, including a runner-up and pole in 2018. He starts 14th tomorrow, but with more than 400 laps led at Texas, Blaney has the experience and the team to get the job done.

"I would love it if we make it to Phoenix after sneaking in by the skin of our teeth. That would be pretty good. I think this team is plenty capable, that’s for sure. I’ve got the utmost confidence in the world in those guys and I think everyone has something to prove just showing that we deserve to be here."

Parity has been the defining word of this season, as represented by the 19 different race winners so far. That number jumps to 20 when you consider Blaney's All-Star win. Without a notebook and past performances, it has become difficult for teams to apply previous knowledge at most of the tracks on the schedule.

Last week at Bristol, teams and drivers didn't know what to expect as the NextGen car was racing on concrete for the first time there. The All-Star race at Texas didn't reward any points but it did provide teams and drivers some knowledge of how the car performs. That could be where Blaney has a bit of an advantage over some of his competitors.

Looking back, Blaney noted how important track position was in that race. “It was huge. I felt like I was good on restarts, it just felt like the bottom launched better. It was a lot about the push and luckily the last restart Austin (Cindric) gave me a great push. I missed the corner but was able to get up in front of (Denny) Hamlin. The push was huge. Control of the lane was big, but a good push definitely helps.”

There is more of an emphasis on this first race in the Round of 12 because the next two stops on the schedule are true wild cards. The series heads to Talladega next weekend, where Blaney has won twice. After that comes a trip to Charlotte for the ROVAL race, where Ryan has always run well. He has finished inside the top-ten in all four races there, including his win in the inaugural race in 2018.

Even though he has won at both of those tracks, Blaney is not going to rely on good finishes there to advance him to the next round of the playoffs.

"It’s definitely been a pretty wild year. I think everyone can agree with that. It does get tougher deeper in the rounds. I don’t think you can cut anybody any breaks because every point matters. It really speaks volumes to have all three of our (Penske) cars advance out of the first round."

"It just shows the strength of the whole field. It shows that anybody can jump up there and win, you’ve seen it all year. I think you’ll continue to see it. Winning at each of these tracks gives us confidence but this is an interesting round. Three different race tracks and everyone is going to put a massive emphasis on this race to be in a good spot for Talladega."

Despite the goose egg in the win column, it has been a very good season for Blaney, statistically speaking. He has eight top-five finishes, 13 top-tens, three poles, and has led laps (428 total) in 21 of the 29 races this year. Roger Penske has seen it, and gave Blaney a multi-year contract extension last month that will keep him in the organization for years to come.

Last year, Kyle Larson won the All-Star race at Texas, the playoff race here, then went on to win the championship. Blaney is hoping to follow in his footsteps, all the way to Phoenix.