The car number is different. As is the paint scheme, which most weeks is a flashy neon yellow. Even the team is technically different.
Yet despite the assorted changes involved in Ryan Blaney leaving Wood Brothers Racing to join Team Penske this season, what hasn’t changed is the third-year driver’s results.
Blaney opened by leading 118 laps in the Daytona 500, before being entangled in one of the many late-race multi-car accidents. Still, he finished seventh. Then he followed with a solid 12th at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and a pole and a fifth-place effort last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
A pair of top 10s in three races, the second-most laps led and trailing only teammate Joey Logano in the Monster Energy Cup Series standings heading into Sunday’s race at ISM Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox) outside of Phoenix. Exactly the performance level projected of Blaney, 24, in what is supposed to represent a breakout season.
High profile drivers joining new teams typically goes one of two ways. There is an adjustment period where it is a struggle to acclimate with the results coming much later or not all; or almost instantaneous success with all involved swiftly gelling and fulfilling the expectations before them.
Which of these best applies to Blaney is as unmistakable as the yellow Ford he drives. Even if the transition from the venerable Wood Brothers, comparable to a family-run corner store, to the buttoned-up corporate culture that epitomizes Penske would appear to be a dramatic shift. But other than Blaney’s once flowing mane of brown locks being trimmed, a lack of facial hair and a new car number (12), everything else is rather the same.
“The transition has been seamless and that is nice.” Blaney said. “You can take what you learned and carry it over to a new team, new number, it is working so far.”
Owning to the tight alliance between the two organizations, where Penske provides the Wood Brothers with equipment, technical data and even some personnel, Blaney didn’t so much change teams. Essentially, he experienced the NASCAR equivalent of changing office cubes.
A process made all the smoother by Blaney’s crew chief, Jeremy Bullins, along with nearly every essential member who worked on his No. 21 Wood Brothers team the past two seasons, accompanying him. That meant the usual feeling out process to build rapport wasn’t required. Further giving Blaney a leg up over starting completely anew was he and Bullins could incorporate the notes they’ve built up during their Wood Brothers tenure, information used to great acclaim in 2017 where they won once and advanced to the semifinal playoff round.
“It really isn’t much different,” Blaney said. “The core group of our race team is pretty much the same with engineers and my crew chief. We really only have two new members of the team of guys that are on the road and two new over the wall guys. It is really the same group. Everyone works together and trusts each other.”
If there has been a hiccup, it occurred at Las Vegas. Standing on the grid prior to qualifying, Blaney spotted his replacement at the Wood Brothers, Paul Menard, and what Blaney saw caused him to do a double take. For the first time this season the Wood Brothers were employing the sponsor-paint scheme combination Blaney carried for much of 2017.
And it was like staring in a mirror.
“That is the first time they have run the old school Motorcraft scheme, so it was strange watching that car,” Blaney said. “Then, Paul comes walking down for qualifying and he is in the same style (fire) suit I was in last year, that was super weird. … It is the exact same way that I think I looked.
“It was like Twilight Zone.”