RYAN BLANEY FLEXES ACTING MUSCLES AS SPECIAL AGENT WOOD IN NBC’S ‘TAKEN’

If you’ve discovered NBC’s new crime drama series, Taken, and happen to be a racing fan, you need to circle two dates in April on your calendar.

On Wednesday, it was announced that on April 15, Clive Standen, one of the stars of Taken, will drive the pace car at the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. On April 20, Taken (9 p.m. ET, NBC) will feature one of NASCAR’s young guns, Ryan Blaney, in an episode titled “Imperium.”

Blaney, 24, who currently sits fifth in points in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, plays a character known as Special Agent Wood, who participates in a chase scene, delivers some lines and (spoiler alert) ends up taking a bullet to save someone else.

Blaney spent two days in December filming the NBC show in Canada. Blaney said NASCAR approached him and asked if he would be interested and he jumped at the opportunity.

Yeah, I was very interested,” he told USA TODAY by phone on Tuesday. “Just a simple ask from NASCAR and NBC, who wanted to work together. NBC was nice enough to want to get a driver on the air, and we were available.”

This was not Blaney’s show business debut. He did a voiceover for the animated movie Cars 3, and had a cameo appearance in the 2017 movie Logan Lucky, where two brothers attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in North Carolina. He also appeared with fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on American Ninja Warrior in 2017.

“But I’ve never done a TV show like this, and I’ve never done anything that was high-action-packed, like this one is, or have as many scenes as this,” Blaney said. “This was the most I’ve ever done, and it was cool to be a part of.”

If you’re wondering about his name, Special agent Wood, well, yes, there is a connection to his former Cup team, Wood Brothers Racing. Blaney left WBR after last season and moved to Team Penske for the 2018 Cup season. But he had great memories of his time with Wood Brothers and wanted to honor them.

“We changed the name actually,” Blaney said. “It was supposed to be something else, but we thought it would be cool to be special agent Wood, a tribute to the Wood Brothers.”

Blaney also got a chance to put his behind the wheel skills to the test. As one of the FBI’s top drivers, special agent Wood is brought in to try to stop a deadly arms dealer from getting to the dock with a truck full of missiles and grenades. “Yeah, we did a little bit of driving. There were some parts that needed a professional stunt driver, but I did a little of it,” he said. “I’ve never done the stunt-driving thing before. That was pretty neat, the way they formatted it, and what they had going on throughout the chase.”

Getting to know Clive Standen was also a highlight of filming the show, Blaney said.

“Clive was a great guy to meet. I was a fan of his from The Vikings show, so it was cool to meet him in person,” Blaney said, “and to hear the stories. I don’t think he has ever been to a NASCAR race, so I’m excited to get him to Bristol. That’s one of our best tracks, I think.”

At Bristol, Blaney and Standen will host a special sneak peek screening of the Takenepisode for fans.

As for his day job, Blaney looks forward to getting his No. 12 Ford Fusion back on track in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 in Fontana, Calif. (3:30 p.m, ET, Fox), which wraps up the series’ Western swing.

He admits since he’s been driving, he’s never seen anyone as hot as Kevin Harvick, who comes in on a three-race win streak and is absolutely dominating the competition.

“It’s nice to be in that Ford camp, we’re starting off on the right foot and everyone else is playing catch-up,” Blaney said. “One time you like seeing a Ford win, it’s Harvick, but at the same time you want to be that Ford that’s winning.”

Blaney is excited about March Madness cranking up, too, and the North Carolinian hopes to see his favorite team win it all. So is it Duke or North Carolina?

Well, neither actually, Blaney explains. “I was born in Ohio, and lived there for two or three years before we moved down to North Carolina,” the third generation NASCAR driver said. “So I was raised in North Carolina, but I’m a (Ohio State) Buckeyes fan at heart. But I do have to support hometown teams, though I don’t have a preference for Duke or Carolina. I just want to see them do well.

“I am excited for March Madness, though. I love tournament time. But it’s really a crazy year. I don’t know if there’s a favorite right now.”

In other words, unlike NASCAR, there appears to be no Kevin Harvick in this year’s tournament.

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