Following Sunday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Ryan Blaney now leads the NASCAR Cup Series point standings for the first time in 2023.
The last time Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney found victory lane at the end of a NASCAR Cup Series race prior to last Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was in August 2021, when he won two races in a row at Michigan International Speedway and Daytona International Speedway.
While he wasn’t able to win back-to-back races this time around, another solid run in Sunday afternoon’s lightning delayed Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter at World Wide Technology Raceway Gateway vaulted the driver of the No. 12 Ford to the top of the point standings for the first time in the 2023 season.
Blaney, who earned his second stage win in seven days in stage two of the 243-lap race around the four-turn, 1.25-mile (2.012-kilometer) Madison, Illinois oval, jumped ahead of Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain, who dropped down to fifth place, to take the lead of the standings.
Unlike when Chastain and Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman took the lead of the standings earlier this year, Blaney’s jump to the top is not the first time of his career.
Ryan Blaney has led the NASCAR Cup Series point standings before.
But his jump to the top for the first time in 2023 only further illustrates his recent success. Blaney struggled in the spring, with three straight finishes — not DNFs — outside of the top 20. But he has since picked it up, reeling off six top nine finishes in the last seven races, including his current run of three in a row.
His victory in the Coca-Cola 600 ended a 59-race win drought that had dated back to the week after his August 2021 win at Daytona International Speedway, and it vaulted him to within one point of the lead of the standings.
A solid, consistent sixth place effort at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway was exactly what he needed to back up what was his breakthrough moment and by far the biggest win of his career.
Of course, had Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron not been issued a 60-point penalty after the early April race at Richmond Raceway, he would be the points leader, and by a sizable 47-point margin.
But the fact is, Blaney is now in front with 11 races remaining on the regular season schedule, and he will be looking to remain there. The eight-time race winner has never been to the Championship 4 in seven previous seasons as a full-time driver, so scoring an additional 15 playoff points as the regular season champion could be a huge difference maker.
The 16th race on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Toyota/Save Mart 350, which is scheduled to take place on Sunday, June 11. Fox is set to broadcast the race live from Sonoma Raceway, where Blaney has four top 10 finishes and a best finish of third place in six career starts, beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET. Begin a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it!