Ryan Blaney knows he has less experience, but it doesn’t go unnoticed that his Team Penske teammates Brad Kesleowski and Joey Logano have combined for five wins this year while Blaney has toiled through a winless 2019.
Both Keselowski and Logano each have a NASCAR Cup Series title on their racing résumés, and the duo have combined for 11 victories the last two years with Blaney earning one in Team Penske equipment.
The 25-year-old Blaney, one of only nine drivers who have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, won’t use his youth as an excuse.
“I want to get to where they are now,” Blaney said last week prior to the start of the playoffs. “I know the experience helps. But, man, I just want to do well, and I compare myself to those guys a lot and I feel like I don’t meet expectations.
“So that part stinks.”
Blaney did finish behind his teammates in the regular-season standings, but he firmly has shown his ability as a top-10 driver. He finished ninth in the regular-season points, solidly locking himself into the playoffs by a 107-point margin.
He enters the second playoff race of the opening round Saturday at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET) ranked 10th in the standings with a 12-point cushion on the current cutoff after finishing fifth in last weekend’s playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“Do I think that I’ve done the best of jobs throughout this year and before this? No, I could do a lot better,” Blaney said.
“So that’s kind of an ‘on me’ thing. You just try to keep learning, keep getting better.”
Blaney said he continuously evaluates where he needs to improve.
“When you try to work on things, personally, to make yourself better and you don’t get better, that’s frustrating,” Blaney said.
“You try to take action on it and it’s just not working. I just try to hold myself to high standards, and sometimes you reach them.”
When he entered the Cup Series in 2015 driving part time for Penske affiliate Wood Brothers Racing while also competing in select races for Team Penske in the Xfinity Series, Blaney garnered plenty of attention. He is the son of former sprint car star-turned-NASCAR driver Dave Blaney and seemed to connect with both old-school fans and the younger generation.
He co-hosts a NASCAR podcast that bills itself as a non-racing show, talking about life, movies, travel, etc., with the occasional NSFW language or topic that NASCAR hopes will resonate with new, younger fans.
“He had more experience, but he came in the same way (as me) with the hype behind him,” said Logano, who spent several frustrating years at Joe Gibbs Racing as the replacement for Tony Stewart. “He ran well and won some Xfinity races.
“It takes a little bit of time at this level to figure out the details. And while you’re figuring out those details, you get beat up, to be quite honest. I’m not saying that’s where he’s at, but that’s where I was.”
It seems like Blaney might not be in as deep a spot as Logano was during his lean years, but Blaney knows what the frustration is like.
“I talk to my dad a little bit and personally deal with it,” Blaney said. “I wish I could be better (and) talk to my crew chief and team.
“It’s easy to get down on yourself when things aren’t going well.”
The hard part is to know if things aren’t going well or if he continues to hike the regular path of learning to race at the Cup level. Blaney considers Keselowski and Logano as two of the smartest and best race car drivers in the series.
“It’s hard to compare to them because they’re so good and past champions,” Blaney said. “But I think if you try to meet that bar, and you kind of push yourself to be there, hopefully one day you do achieve that goal.”
In 153 Cup starts, Blaney has 54 top-10 finishes. He has posted eight top-5s and 13 top-10s this season and has had four races where he led at least 40 laps. Two weeks ago at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he was leading late but lost the lead on pit road with 30 laps remaining.
“It’s pretty apparent and clear he’ll be in this sport for a very, very long time,” Logano said about Blaney. “He’s going to win a ton of races.
“You’re racing against guys that have got so many years of experience and they are so good and they work so hard at this, you don’t just strap in and know how to do it. I don’t care how much talent you’ve got, it’s not enough.”