If recent NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen car testing sessions are any indication, Ryan Blaney is serving notice.
Defending champion Kyle Larson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, the 2020 titleholder, may be among the favorites to challenge for the 2022 drivers’ championship, but Blaney is blazing his way into the series’ spotlight.
Ryan Blaney is adapting nicely to NASCAR’s Next Gen cars
The driver of the Team Penske No. 12 Ford appears to be doing just fine with the new technology; thank you.
As Brad Keselowski suggested, Blaney is not pausing to whine over the challenges the Next Gen cars present drivers, compared to the Gen 6 models pit crews have been tinkering with since 2013.
Now, ideally, with more stock parts and cost-cutting measures going into effect for 2022, Blaney will be racing against a field with similar setups. The speeds may be slower, but driver skills will be greatly emphasized.
So far, Blaney has been doing more with less, especially in North Carolina.
Blaney turned in the fastest lap during the Next Gen car testing session at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Dec. 15. He also executed the fastest test lap on Nov. 17 at Charlotte.
Blaney’s career-best 2021 showing was aided by talent and luck
Blaney’s team, including new crew chief Jonathan Hassler, significantly improved the power of the machines. After blitzing the field with a top speed of 173.193 mph in November, Blaney and company returned nearly a month later to turn a fast lap of 182.014 mph.
Blaney’s offseason performances are beginning to make a statement.
So, too, was his 2021 effort, capturing career-highs in wins (3), top-five finishes (11, third time), and top 10s (20).
Blaney was not only good, but he was also lucky, too.
Before capturing the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on Aug. 28, Blaney had already qualified for the 10-race postseason, but he entered the playoffs in style with his second consecutive checkered flag. He barely escaped what devolved into what seemed like a high-speed demolition derby for a final dash to the finish line.
For the fourth time, Blaney qualified for the Round of 8.
On his fourth failed attempt, Blaney struck out in his effort to reach the Championship 4.
Blaney and new crew chief are discovering early chemistry
The next step for Blaney is obvious.
Break on through to the final four.
With Hessler taking over the team, Blaney will listen to a different voice. He will follow the directions of a new boss, but the directive remains the same.
Hessler earned his promotion to Team Peske after guiding the Wood Brothers Racing’s No. 21 Ford driven by the politically troubled Matt DiBenedetto during the second half of 2021.
If the past few Next Gen car testing sessions are any indication, Blaney and Hessler are beginning to serve notice.