Perhaps no other driver can attest to just how tough the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs can be than Ryan Blaney.

Blayney has been here before. The Team Penske driver was in the playoffs and he was in the final 8. But this third round – the precursor to the Championship Final 4 – is where Blainey’s journey ended three times.

He begins another quest to get over the hump Sunday in Las Vegas (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

“It’s just tough,” Blaney said of the round. “I thought we did a great job last year of getting a really good chance to build Phoenix, but it just didn’t work out. I had a wreck in Kansas and put us in a box headed for Martinsville. Not really a box, but we had to perform well and we didn’t.”

Blaney was one point away from a championship berth a year ago in Martinsville. But poor driving and a long day around the paperclip saw him eliminated, leaving him on the outside by 20 points.

“It’s just a tough round; it’s just hard to be consistent,” Blaney said. “Obviously this year we haven’t scored as many bonus points as we would have liked, like No. 9 [Chase Elliott] was able to do that in the regular season and in the playoffs — score some points in the playoffs [have] a good pillow. I feel like it’s a few times on this and the competition is fierce and you can’t go wrong. I would really like to break this streak and finally be able to do it in Championship 4 this year.”

Blaney’s highest ranked team and No. 12 finished seventh in points. They came within three seasons after he was eliminated in this round.

Two of the three Round of 16 races have changed this year, starting in Las Vegas and then the series visits another intermediate stage at Homestead-Miami. Martinsville is still the last chance for riders to earn a spot in the finals in a shot at the big prize.

While the circular layout may vary, Blaney doesn’t expect it to change much. He believes the drivers understand this round and that there is little room for error.

“At the end of the day, it’s a matter of trying to figure out how to succeed and do well in these places,” he said. “Keep being consistent and keep trying to win.”

A victory for the Penske driver would not come at a better time. Not just in finally making a mark in that column for the season, but in taking him to a place he’s seen in front of him many times before, but never experienced.

“You have to try to stay mentally strong. It’s the only thing you can do, Blaney said. “It’s easy to get frustrated because you know your chance is right here. Every little position and point counts and you’ve almost reached the main goal. So it can be frustrating, and it’s easy to lose focus. But I think at the end of the day, you have to stay calm and just try to approach each race with a clear mind: “Here’s the goal, let’s do our best.” If we have a problem, how do we overcome it?”

“I feel like we’ve done it pretty well this year. You don’t want to get in trouble, but I think it shows mental toughness if you can put it in the back of your head and move past it and focus forward. So it’s just a tough round for the drivers, the pit crew, everybody. It is very, very difficult. The pressure is building. He’s someone who keeps his head up high and doesn’t feel that pressure. I feel like they go out there and perform and do their job and that gives you a shot at Phoenix.”