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The first quarter of the regular season is in the books and it has been unlike what we’ve witnessed in recent seasons. Instead of several drivers breaking away in the early going, the entire field has seemed to jockey for position. The drivers one usually suspects will run well have done so on occasion. But so have dark horses. Almost no one has set themselves apart from the crowd.

That won’t last.

Several drivers will soon find their rhythm and begin stringing multiple victories together. One thing the first seven races has made us sensitive to, is that we may not see the usual suspects as the leaders. Several key drivers have not yet won. And the ones who have been a combination of pleasant surprises, dark horses, and former dominators.

Following the Easter break, NASCAR will hit another long stretch of races. With COVID-19 protocols slowly being lifted around the country, racing is starting to look normal again and as we round the corner and hit the backstretch, drivers – like horses – will start to stretch their legs.

At Team Penske, Ryan Blaney was the first to win. He managed his tires much better than the rest of the field and caught the dominant car in the QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway to win two weeks ago. Last week, his teammate Joey Logano became the first winner of a Cup dirt track race in more than 50 years, giving the organization back-to-back wins.

That could be just the momentum needed for the next stretch of races.

Looking at Blaney’s career history is only of limited use. He is just now hitting his sixth season in the series, and is hitting his stride. But as part of the Penske program, Blaney spent part of his time with the satellite Wood Brothers organization. That team is solid and gets substantial support from Penske, but it is not the same as the mother organization.

Multicar organizations also have odd dynamics. As hard as one tries, the playing field is never equal. Blaney spent him first couple of years with Penske trying to catch up to Logano and Brad Keselowski. Last year – on multiple occasions – it appeared he had done so. This year will tell the tale.

If your betting strategy includes making multiple bets for the outright win over extended periods of time, you require a driver to win at least three to four times under normal circumstances when the odds are in the range of 10/1.

Blaney’s Atlanta win came at +1500, so he needs two more wins at +1050 to cover a year’s worth of weekly bets. This coming week, he opens at PointsBet Sportsbook with odds of +850, and while that falls outside the scope, he is an attractive choice as the sixth-ranked driver this week. Oddsmakers have become a little skittish with so many longshot winners.

Blaney enters Martinsville with a sweep of the runner-up position last year and four consecutive top-five finishes. He’s due his first win on that track.

If Blaney can challenge for the victory next week, he should also be strong at Richmond Raceway, which is another short, flat track. While that should be true, Blaney has not duplicated his Martinsville success up the road in Richmond, but then again, his career is young enough that he can easily surprise handicappers.

This is the time to establish momentum.

One other positive note is that his 2021 victory came on a 1.5-mile track. He also finished fifth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which gives him seven top-fives in the last 13 cookie cutter races. He’s finished worse than seventh only twice in that span, so he should be able to knock out another couple of wins before the end of the season.

The magic number to cover a weekly bet is a combination that reaches +3600 and it doesn’t matter how a driver gets there. It’s a good bet that Blaney will reward a bettor’s confidence and we won’t be surprised to see at least two more wins this season.