FORT WORTH, Texas — As each week passes in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final full-time NASCAR season, he is asked about not only his legacy but also about the new generation of drivers who will crowd the Monster Energy Cup Series grid for the foreseeable future.
Judging by Earnhardt’s remarks and smiles Friday morning at Texas Motor Speedway, he feels like the future is in great hands — both on track and away from the track. Specifically, he had high praise for second-year Monster Energy Series driver Ryan Blaney, one of two young drivers (Chase Elliott is the other) still challenging for this year’s championship.
“I’m excited about all these guys, Alex (Bowman) and William (Byron) and (Ryan) Blaney — he’s just so much fun outside of the car just to observe and watch,” Earnhardt said, speaking at length about his high expectations of the 23-year-old Blaney. “We all kind of enjoy seeing what he’s up to. He’s doing something every week.”
This year’s Pocono winner, Blaney may be NASCAR’s version of the “Most Interesting Man in the World.” The son of sprint car legend Dave Blaney, Ryan has established himself as a big fan favorite and is always a candid interview — win or lose.
His “Glass Case of Emotion” podcast on NASCAR.com is so popular, it just topped 1 million listens this season.
“He’s the guy I think that’s taking the lead and a lot of guys could follow as far as how he self-promotes and engages with the fans,” Earnhardt said of Blaney. “He does such a good job with it and he’s up for anything. I think that’s a great example if those guys want to look for somebody to follow.”
And best of all for Blaney, his performance on the race track has only legitimized and stoked his popularity away from it. He finished runner-up in the Daytona 500 and won the pole position at Kansas earlier this year before claiming his first Monster Energy Series win at Pocono three weeks later.
He moves to Team Penske next year, teaming with former champion Brad Keselowski and perennial title favorite Joey Logano.
He is ranked fifth among the eight drivers still playoff-eligible – only six points below the cut-off line with two races remaining to set the Championship 4 for the season finale Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami.