NASCAR: Ryan Blaney keeps rare streak alive with late rally

Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Ryan Blaney’s late rally in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway kept a historic streak alive to start the 2021 season.

Sure, five different winners in the first five races of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season was a big talking point heading into this past race weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

But in reality, five different winners in a season’s first five races hasn’t been all that rare.

It had happened most recently in the 2017 season, and it happened in 2011, 2013 and 2014 as well. So the 2021 season marked the fifth time that it had happened in the last 11 years — not super uncommon by any stretch of the imagination.

Six winners in the first six races, however? Different story.

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And it looked as though that story would not be seen in 2021. Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson won the season’s fourth race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and he was dominant in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

He led 269 of the race’s 325 laps around the four-turn, 1.54-mile (2.478-kilometer) oval in Hampton, Georgia behind the wheel of his #5 Chevrolet. But he failed to lead past lap 316.

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With nine laps remaining, a faster Ryan Blaney drove his #12 Team Penske Ford around Larson to take the lead, and he went on to secure his first win of the season and fifth career victory by 2.083 seconds.

Six different winners in the first six races of a season had only happened once since 2003, with that happening in the 2014 season.

Seven different drivers won the season’s first seven races that year, with Kevin Harvick winning the eighth race at Darlington Raceway after winning the second race at Phoenix Raceway to become the first repeat winner.

The all-time record is 10 different winners in the first 10 races of a season, and that happened back in 2000.

Since then, the 2001, 2003 and 2014 seasons had been the only seasons to start off without a repeat winner in the first six events, making the 2021 season just the fourth in the last 21 years to see such a trend.

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Will the 2021 season see a seventh different winner in the seventh race at Bristol Motor Speedway this Sunday, March 28? This race, the Food City Dirt Race, is slated to be the first Cup Series race on dirt in more than five decades, and it is set to be broadcast live on Fox beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET.