RYAN BLANEY IS READY TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP WITH TEAM PENSKE

The number one appears quite often on Ryan Blaney’s Nascar Cup Series stat sheet. He’s been consistently consistent in each of the last five seasons, winning exactly one race every year.

Blaney, 27, is one of Nascar’s rising stars. His laid-back vibes, combined with your eagerness to spend time with him away from the track, makes him a great fit for the future Team Penske.

 Now, though, as Blaney’s popularity climbs, he is critiquing himself in order to turn the number one in his win column to multiple.

“The biggest thing you learn, as you do anything enough times, is you don’t have to be 100% all the time,” Blaney said of his early habits behind the wheel. “You don’t have to go 120% on every single lap or every single play. You don’t have to rely completely on your ability to drive, so you think through things more thoughtfully and methodically. It eases your head.”

Blaney’s self-evaluation appears to be working. He already parked his No. 12 Ford Mustang in victory lane in the sixth race of the year at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He recently led 157 of 500 laps at Martinsville Speedway, ultimately finishing 11th.

He has blossomed into one of Nascar’s most exciting drivers to watch. Each year he’s competed in the Cup Series, he’s improved from the season prior.

But for the first time in Blaney’s young career, he locked himself into the Nascar Playoffs within the first quarter of the season. While his mentality doesn’t change, it certainly does help him chase more wins.

Last March, Blaney signed a multi-year extension to remain at Team Penske, but the details of the agreement were not released. Nonetheless, the agreement, which came a week before Nascar shut down due to Covid-19, gives him some breathing room.

“I was super excited that Mr. Penske and everyone there wanted me back for a number of years,” Blaney said of team owner Roger Penske, who also owns the NTT IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Just because Blaney has a multi-year deal doesn’t mean the pressure is off. He’s finished inside of the top 10 in the championship standings each year since 2017, but never better than seventh (2019).

If anything, the intensity is picking up for Blaney’s No. 12 team. Teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski each have a “champion” label embroidered on their fire suits, and Blaney believes 2021 is his best chance to have one added to his.

“It’s nice to have a home for a while, but you still need to prove yourself,” Blaney said. “You need to prove you belong there, you can win races and that you improve every year.”

Blaney is in quite the unique situation. He’s one of only a handful of Cup drivers to have secured a multi-year deal, and he doesn’t have to worry about searching for sponsorship.

His No. 12 car is sponsored by home improvement chain Menards, along with Body Armor, Dex Imaging and Advance Auto Parts AAP -0.2%. Combine the secure sponsorship with  Blaney’s multi-year deal and he is certainly riding on a wave that can send him onto the shores of success.

The success, though, is still surreal for Blaney. Sometimes,, it doesn’t even feel like he’s been with Team Penske since 2012, he explained. The almost decade-long journey puts life into perspective.

“I came from a small team in Tommy Baldwin Racing just because my dad was racing in Cup for them,” he said. “I had some Xfinity Series races for those guys, and I was fortunate on the timing because Penske was looking for a new driver.

“[Keselowski’s] Truck Series team was also looking for a new driver. I just happened to be coming into the sport, and they all thought well enough of me to give me a shot.”

Blaney certainly got his shot. Now, he’s ready to prove why he can follow in his teammates’ footsteps and become a champion. The No. 12 Ford finished 11th on Sunday at Richmond Raceway, his best result at the track.

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