Blaney heads into the Round of 12 cut-off race at Charlotte a healthy 32 points clear of the elimination zone.
He won the opening stage at Talladega and was in contention for most of the race. But when it came down to it, Chase Elliott was able to squeeze ahead and snatch away the victory. There was just 0.046s between the two drivers at the finish line.
His hopes of becoming the 20th different winner of the 2022 NASCAR Cup season will have to wait another week.
Blaney had worked with Ross Chastain for most of the later portion of the race, but lined up in front of fellow Ford driver Michael McDowell on the final restart.
“I was fine lining up bottom or top, honestly, working with Ross (Chastain) there for a while," said Blaney. "I knew he pushed good and I knew obviously Michael (McDowell) could push really good, too. So, I didn’t really care where we were gonna be lining up. I got a good push there and was able to get too good of a push on the restart and got the 9 (Elliott) clear and then he was able to lead the top lane. I had a couple chances to move up to the top and cover it and I was just getting nervous about getting hung in the middle with the 9, the 43 (Erik Jones) and the 1 (Chastain) lined up.
"I just didn’t feel comfortable going up there and trusting, I trust Chase, but not that much to where he wouldn’t have hung me out for the greater good of his group, so just chose to stay on the bottom with Michael. We had a great chance at winning the thing, but we got disconnected in the middle of three and four. I don’t know if the 11 (Denny Hamlin) laid off of him, but we disconnected and let the 9 and 43 get a big run. Mine was just kind of a little bit too late. I’ll look at it probably pick at a few things I probably should have done different, wish I would have done different, but it’s easy to say that now. Overall, it was a decent day. It just stinks to be that close to our first win of the season.”
Looking back, the Team Penske driver wondered about what he could have done differently in order to hold on to the win.
“I think the only thing I probably would have done different is, one, realize that the 11 (Hamlin) was laying off the 34 (McDowell) in the middle of three and four and faded back with them," he said. "It just happened really quick and then I probably would have coming to the checkered – if we would have won or not, I don’t know – but got back to the bottom – kind of do the fake high, go low, but he was watching and I was kind of far back. I think it was gonna be too little too late anyway, but a couple things.”
Only once did Blaney willingly go to the back of the pack, bailing from the lead after a near-miss with Brad Keselowski. Impressively, it was a fairly clean 500 miles of racing at Talladega. 33 of the 37 starters made it to the checkered flag and there was only one multi-car incident. That was quite the surprise to Blaney, and likely many others in the field on Sunday.
“Honestly, yeah, with how hard we were pushing each other and some big shots there," he said. "I mean, I was full cross arm locked a couple times. I think everyone’s gotten better at this speed of taking pushes and what to expect. I think everyone’s gotten more skilled and knowledgeable about it. You still have to be careful what you do, but it just shows that we can push real hard and not really cause any big wrecks, even though I thought we should have had some today. It’s good we didn’t. We had one early, but it was never a big one.”
In the final two-lap dash, Blaney admits that points were on his mind, but only briefly. Once the green flag waved, he became fixated on just one thing -- winning.
“I had that thought before the restart and then we got going green and you turn into race win mode," he explained. "For a moment I was like, ‘It would be good to line up on the front row and see what we can get. I just don’t want to get turned.’ But, I forgot all about that. I just wanted to win the race.”
Blaney remains the only driver in the playoffs without a win. His most recent Cup Series victory came at Daytona Int. Speedway in August, 2021.