Ryan Blaney has confidence on his side heading to Kentucky Speedway for Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at a track where he’s had success in the past.
The third generation driver is still on the ups after scoring his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win last month at Pocono Raceway and even though he’s struggled to finish in the top-10 in the races since, he’s still excited about the next stop on the circuit Saturday night where he’s been to Victory Lane twice in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
“It’s nice to get back to a racetrack where we’ve been fairly successful at in the XFINITY car, and I think our Cup cars have actually been really good there, too,” Blaney said. “I’m excited to get back. I’ve always enjoyed the racetrack and the atmosphere around it.”
Blaney is ready to put the last couple of races behind him, including a 26th-place finish last Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway after being caught up in a late-race crash.
“It’s going to be nice to try to get there and just have a solid rebound from Daytona last week, getting caught up in one of the many wrecks there late in the race,” Blaney said. “Sometimes the outcome of the speedway racing, and I think you’ve just got to look at the positives of it and know that we had a fast car, and that’s something to look forward to when we go to Talladega here for the playoffs in a few months.”
And speaking of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, Blaney will be a participant for the first time following his Pocono triumph. In a season where winning and consistency is more important than ever, he’s ready to contend for his first championship and score every point he can.
“You go out and try to win stages and win races just like before and just do what we all have been doing all year. I think we’ve done a pretty decent job at it,” Blaney said. “You’re just kind of trying to keep building your playoff status and trying to cushion everything from each round that just carries over.”
Blaney is part of the changing guard of NASCAR. Along with other young guns Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Erik Jones among others, he’s charging into the future and carrying one of NASCAR’s oldest race teams, Wood Brothers Racing, along with him.
“It’s great to be part of that younger group,” Blaney said. “It’s just nice to kind of be part of the club really. There’s a lot of great young racecar drivers that are coming up. They do a great job and it’s just nice to be in that group.”
The young names are getting their shot as several bigger names have begun to step away from competing full-time.
“In the past few years, a lot of drivers have retired who have been big for the sport, from Tony and Jeff to Dale Jr. retiring this year, it’s definitely going to be some change for sure,” Blaney said. “I would hope those fans still enjoy the sport and want to pick new drivers but I don’t really feel like there’s any pressure to kind of take their spots.”
Blaney says the turnover in talent makes for interesting and fun times for the sport.
“I think it’s a pretty neat time for the sport right now with a lot of young drivers coming in, with a lot of great drivers who have been around the sport for a long time who are still winning races and competing highly,” Blaney said. “It’s a pretty neat combination and I think that’s exciting for the fans, exciting for the sport in general. And like I’ve said before, it’s just nice to be part of it.”
Blaney’s future in NASCAR is certain, but which team he drives for isn’t as clear. Rumors within the garage area have put Blaney moving over to a third full-time team for Team Penske as teammates to perennial championship favorites Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.
He says he doesn’t really think about next year, but rather accomplishing his goals for this season instead.
“I don’t really think about that stuff. There’s been talking about it for years, really ever since I got with the Penske group and things just haven’t really come together. I love the Wood Brothers and driving for them has been really special for me and my family. I couldn’t ask for a greater group of people.”
“I’m mostly concentrated on trying to win race 100 for the Wood Brothers. That’s something I would really like to achieve, and I think we can do it,” Blaney said. “I’m going to be happy wherever I end up, whether it’s the Wood Brothers or Penske or whatever. I’m really happy with the Ford camp and that family, so we’ll see where everything goes.”
With question marks in his future, Blaney continues to focus on the present and winning races and working towards the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
“I’m more kind of a here-and-now kind of guy,” Blaney said. “Trying to win Kentucky is my main priority, and we’ll go try to do that. But I’m sure we’ll figure something out here soon, but as of right now, I’m just driving the 21 car this year and pretty happy to be where I’m at.”
“We just go try to win races and stages and run up front like we’ve been doing all year. Just try to put a solid race together and try to build some momentum before the playoffs start here in a little bit.”