2017 NASCAR Q&A: NASCAR Monster Energy Cup – Ryan Blaney

RYAN BLANEY – No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion

WHERE AND WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO CONCENTRATE ON NASCAR? “It was really where we grew up at pretty much. My dad and my whole family grew up in Ohio and that’s dirt central pretty much right there. I grew up in North Carolina in High Point about an hour up the road and there is no dirt period around here. There are only a handful of tracks and it’s really asphalt late model stuff. The pass tour and ASA stuff back then was still around, so it was just location and how we got started. Bobby Labonte built a fantastic facility in Salisbury, North Carolina – a quarter-midget track – and that sort of started my asphalt career and we just went from there with Legend cars at Charlotte Motor Speedway to late models and then up the ladder. I’ve dabbled in the sprint car world a little bit. My dad used to build them. He still builds his cars, and then when I got with the Penske group it kind of shut that whole operation down. It’s just location. If I would have grown up in Ohio, I’m sure I would have done the dirt route and who knows where we would be, but growing up in North Carolina changed that.” 

CAN YOU SHARE THE STORY ABOUT GETTING A STANDING OVATION AFTER YOU WERE LATE TO A PENSKE FUNCTION? “The one thing you don’t want to be is late to a Penske breakfast. You’ve got everybody there. Mr. Penske is there and all the brass and I walk in late. I don’t know what happened. I don’t think I overslept. I might have overslept, but I got there and there was a standing ovation. That was like in 2012 or 2013, right when I got there, and you talk about wanting to walk out of the room. I started sweating bullets and was just as nervous as can be, and then you’ve got to go up and give a speech right after that. That was a rough day for sure, so I make sure I’m one of the earliest to the Penske breakfast.”

WHAT DID YOU LEARN MOST LAST YEAR AND WHAT DO YOU NEED TO IMPROVE ON? “I think you learn the most about trying to improve your car over the whole race, and the amount of preparation and setup time it takes to get these cars to where you need to be. Most of the time, if you’re not fast on Friday or Saturday it really makes for a tough weekend. The preparation before you even get to the track is key, to try to be as close as you can be. As drivers, we can only do so much about that, but trying to give the best information that you can throughout the whole weekend – Friday, Saturday and during the race on Sunday is so key. That was probably one of the biggest things I tried to work on and get better at. I spent a lot of time in the off-season trying to do just that, and then the communication side between myself and my engineers and crew chief. That’s been something I’ve been trying to improve a lot and trying to understand these cars more. I feel like some of those changes are the biggest ones that we’ve made in the off-season and hopefully for the better.”

THERE ARE SOME RUMORS PENSKE WOULD LIKE TO RUN SPORTS CARS AGAIN. WOULD YOU LIKE TO RUN THE ROLEX OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT? “I’d be very interested. With the Ford GT program starting up and it doing so well, I would love to do that. I would love to do the Rolex 24 or anything like that – one of the bigger races or even a smaller race. I’d just love to drive some of those cars. I love road courses and Ford has made a big commitment into the GT program and the Mustang program, so that’s something I would highly enjoy doing if I ever got a call or opportunity from Mr. Penske or Ford I would definitely do that in a heartbeat.”

WHERE DID THE DESIGN FOR YOUR DRIVER’S UNIFORM COME FROM? “The firesuit is really something we based on Darlington and the Talladega suit I wore last year. Darlington, when we had Pearson on the car, we just changed a couple things up with the colors and made Motorcraft and Quick Lane bigger and stuff like that. I really liked that suit. I know a lot of people enjoyed the throwback suit that we had and it was just like Mr. Pearson wore when he won the triple crown that year, so the Wood Brothers and I talked about trying to do a version of that and I think it turned out really well. Why not have an old-school suit for the oldest-running team in NASCAR? I’m happy we were able to do that. I’m really happy that Motorcraft and everybody let us do this, and I think it gives us a really good look and the right look for what the Wood Brothers represent, which is old-school racing.”

YOUR TEAM MOVED TO A NEW LOCATION IN MOORESVILLE, NC. HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO THE PLACE YOU LEFT? “Really, the biggest reason for the move was to try to get closer to our alliance at Penske. Logistically, it was really hard to get to Harrisburg, running cars back and forth or people back and forth. That was really tough. That’s a long haul, but now we’re 10 minutes down the road, which is really nice to have a good shop there in the Mooresville Drag Park, and for the Wood Brothers to have their own shop. The other one they part-owned with the JTG group, so to have their own shop now is really nice and they really enjoy that. They have plenty of room in there to have our cars in there and then for them to rebuild a bunch of old cars. Leonard has all of his projects, so the building we have now logistically makes a lot more sense and then it’s their own building, so I think that just improves our alliance with the Penske group, for sure.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT RUNNING FULL-TIME LAST YEAR AND BEING A PART OF THAT? “It was great to get them back full-time. That was their first full-time season in about eight years, so that was nice to do, and it was also a lot of change. That’s a big jump and big commitment to go from 15-18 races to 36. It’s a lot more preparation. It’s a lot more people required to do that, both at the race track and away from the race track. Ultimately, it was great to do, but it was a lot of work to try to get it there. I think now having a full year under our belt, not only myself but our team and the Wood Brothers in general, you kind of know what to expect week-in and week-out, and that’s just gonna make us stronger having a full year behind us and it really makes you look forward to the upcoming season.”

DO YOU HAVE TO HAVE A SEPARATE PENSKE STARCHED SHIRT COMPARED TO WOOD BROTHERS FUNCTIONS? “Yeah. I’ve never washed a starched shirt because I will mess it up, so they just get me a new one every single time. I’m pretty sure that goes for Brad and Joey, too. They just have a new one for us. I get them dirty and I can’t wash anything without shrinking it or messing it up, so I just get a new one. It’s nice, but, yes, I do have separate ones. The Wood Brothers ones are a little bit more laid back, but the Penske ones they’re definitely making sure we look good. I shaved today, which was nice. I did my hair, which was good.”

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