If Super Bowl LIII left you a little drowsy Sunday, you’re in luck. NASCAR kicks off this weekend at Daytona International Speedway, as the Advanced Auto Parts Clash exhibition at Daytona fires up race fans just one week before the start of the 2019 season. Official competition begins with the Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 17.
One of the NASCAR’s most exciting up-and-coming drivers is Team Penske No. 12 Ford Fusion driver Ryan Blaney. Blaney had a busy 2018, spending part of his time in the second-tier NASCAR Xfinity Series. Despite Xfinity’sdemanding schedule, Blaney also competed in the top tier Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, placing 10th overall in the NASCAR 2018 season, while also pulling off a win at the Bank of America Roval 400 in Charlotte, North Carolina last fall. Prior to 2018, Blaney scored his first NASCAR Cup win in June 2017 at the Pocono 400, and last year picked up a sponsorship with sports drink maker BODYARMOR right before his Charlotte win.
Gearing up for NASCAR 2019, I spoke with Blaney yesterday by phone about his preparation for the season and racing culture.
Andy Frye: We hear a lot about baseball Spring Training now and NFL Camp come late summer. What is the “preseason” like for NASCAR drivers?
Ryan Blaney: It’s different for us than, say, pitchers and catchers reporting now or NBA players and their summer league games. I haven’t driven a race car since Miami. Getting back into is great and Daytona will be my first time back in a car. But in the offseason, you’re generally training outside the car. You watch races from prior year to get your mind ready, and you can revisit how they played out. Our pit crew practices three times a week, too, to get ready.
Getting back, I’ll be a little green. I wish I could be in a car every single week. But starting again gets your mind quickly back in the pace you need (in order) to race.
AF: Are there any tracks you prefer or look forward to, such as Talladega or Daytona?
Blaney: I like them all. As a competitor, you should look forward to driving them all, and if not, you are starting yourself with a disadvantage. Sure, you might run better at some of them and you look to improve where you can, but I think it helps to look at each one as an opportunity. But the Bristol night racestands out for me. I loved watching it as a kid.
AF: What equals success? Tell us about preparation and also your mindset on race day.
Blaney: When you have three months off you have to keep in shape, and for me, the BODYARMOR partnership has helped me. You realize that races are long, especially the 500-mile races, and during summer temperatures can get up to 130 degrees inside the car. It’s really important to stay hydrated and keep your body used to those temperatures.
Through BODYARMOR I got to meet Kobe Bryant last year at an event in Las Vegas last year. I spoke to him about his time in his sport, and it’s great to hear from other athletes like him about their mindset, how they stay in games, stay aggressive and focused.
AF: What race car drivers did you watch growing up? Who influences you?
Blaney: Obviously my dad is someone I look up to, always have, and he still races. But I also looked up to Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson. I got to race with Jeff and Tony before they retired and still race Jimmie. It’s been a pleasure to get to know them and race them, and to find out that they are just as good of people as you expect them to be.
AF: Your family has a history of racing on dirt and your dad, Dave Blaney, still races in the NASCAR Outdoor Series. What’s racing like off the track?
Blaney: My dad grew up racing dirt sprint cars in Ohio, and through that, he’ll race more than me this year. His dad and my grandpa raced on dirt in the 1960s and ’70s. I don’t get to do a lot of the dirt stuff since my current racing limits that, but I like to go watch my dad race. We’re a family that had always had dirt on our jeans, and that heritage will always be a part of us.