Ryan Blaney is off to a fast start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season in his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford.
He opened the season with a second-place finish in the Daytona 500, has since added two more top-10 finishes, and sits seventh in the series points standings heading into this Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway (live on FS1, with pre-race coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET).
FOXSports.com caught up with him the other day for an exclusive question-and-answer session that proved quite entertaining.
How has it been interacting with NASCAR legends Leonard Wood and Glen Wood while driving for Wood Brothers Racing?
Blaney: “Leonard’s been great. He’s been to most races this year, if not all of them. So it’s been nice to have him out supporting me. Glen was at the 500, so that was good. I’m not sure if he’s going to come this weekend or not. I bet he will. It’s just down the road.
“They’re great people and they always have great stories to tell.”
Do you have a favorite old-school story from them?
Blaney: “I do, but I can’t repeat it. They have a lot of great David Pearson stories, which are my favorites. … But I can’t say them out loud.”
What did you think about Atlanta Motor Speedway’s decision to hold off on repaving?
Blaney: “I’m pretty pumped up about that. At the beginning of the year they said they wanted to, and I know why the drivers all reacted to that. I know they talked to Marcus Smith about it – and they said, ‘We’ll see how the race on Sunday goes and we’ll listen to your feedback.’
“And the race on Sunday was great. I think all the fans liked it. The drivers loved it, as always. We spoke up again and said, ‘We’d really like to NOT repave this place.’ And they listened, so that was really, really nice.”
When you see another young driver like Kyle Larson win like he did last week at Auto Club Speedway, does that give you extra motivation to do the same as you seek your first Cup victory?
Blaney: “Larson’s been super-fast this year. They’ve probably had the best start to the season of anybody. He’s a great driver on a great team – but yes, I do get asked the question of when will I win a lot. We all want to win and always prepare to the best of our ability to try and do that. … But it does make you feel maybe a little bit extra incentive, a little bit more drive to win races. I’m a young guy, too. I want to be where he is. I won’t say it puts a chip on your shoulder, but it definitely makes you strive a little bit more to try to do it.”
How much of an increased confidence level do you as an individual and the race team as a whole have this year?
Blaney: “I think getting a full year under our belt was huge. Being able sit back in the offseason and point out some things where we could get better was a really big deal for us.
“We’ve added a couple people that have I think really benefitted our team, but we kept a lot of the same people we had last year. It was my first season; it was my crew chief Jeremy Bullins’ first season full time in Cup, and for the Wood brothers it was their first full-time season in eight years. So there were a lot of firsts for this team.
“I thought we had a decent year last year – not great, by any means. But I showed potential, I think, and to come out and run fast and really well in the first handful of races this year, although it’s still really early, that helps everybody’s confidence. I think it shows that all our hard work in the offseason paid off.
“But just because we’re better, we can’t get complacent.”
So here at FOX Sports we love our weekly Radioactive segments on “NASCAR Race Hub.” How come folks don’t seem to be giving Jimmie Johnson as much grief this week for getting on Dale Earnhardt Jr. as when you did at Phoenix?
Blaney: (laughing) “I actually just got done listening to this week’s Radioactive. I enjoy it and listen to it all the time. But, I don’t know, maybe it’s because (Johnson) didn’t say a bad word or call him out. He just said Dale was all over the place.”
Actually, Jimmie did have one bad word in there …
Blaney: “Yeah, but it wasn’t directed toward Dale. That was an interesting deal at Phoenix. Drivers, and every athlete, really every human being, gets emotional about some stuff at some point. It depends on what you’re passionate about and if you’re performing well. I got a little bit upset and probably shouldn’t have said that on the radio, especially something to a friend of yours like Dale.
“But I saw the wrath of Junior Nation. Dale and I are cool. He’s always been a good friend of mine, someone I’ve always looked up to. So we’re all good now, but it definitely was an interesting week – especially an interesting 24 or 48 hours.”
Is it true you sent Mrs. Earnhardt flowers?
Blaney: “I did. I went out Thursday in California and got ‘em. So I was going to give them on Friday, but I forgot the damn things in my room on the way to the track. So on Saturday I dropped them off outside Dale’s bus. We had an early practice, so I had to drop them off at like 7:30 (a.m.). Dale sent me a text 10 minutes later, laughing.
“And I didn’t know this at the time, but I learned it later. It was her birthday on Saturday, so I was like, ‘OK, cool, those can count as an apologetic gesture and a birthday gesture.’ So I got two points for that right there – but I still owe Dale a case of beer. So when I see him next I’ll have to pay up on that.”
He’ll probably like the case of beer better than flowers, right?
Blaney: “Oh, yeah, yeah. They each like different things. So I’m halfway there. I’ve got to get the other part of the deal.”
Didn’t we hear you on Radioactive again this week, saying something about Jamie McMurray?
Blaney: “Yeah, it wasn’t anything bad. I think it was the second run of the race. He was running fourth and I was trying to get by him. Jamie races really hard, and I couldn’t get by him. He was taking my lane away. Every time I moved to a different lane, he’d take that damn lane away the next lap.
“That gets really frustrating. … I think I said, ‘The 1 car is going to be the death of me. It happens a lot.’ “
You actually said it happens every week …
Blaney: “It’s very often. Every time I get around him, I don’t want to say he mirror-drives – but he kind of does. It was all last year.
“Last year it was for 10th to 15th, and this year it’s for top five. We’re all running better, but it’s like, man, I can’t get away from this guy.”
What’s going on with your great hair debate, as to whether or not to cut it?
Blaney: “It’s kind of long now. It’s kind of mullet-y. I’m not going to say almost. It is. It’s got some mullet in it. I enjoy long hair. I like having it.
“But I do this podcast every week now and I asked fans on Twitter should I get it cut or keep it going. Their answers were 50-50. Half of them said to cut it and half said to keep going.
“And then Kasey (Kahne) said I should go to Great Clips (to get it cut). That’s one of his sponsors. I told him I’d go and that I accept gift cards, because he’s got the hookup there.
“But I don’t know. I’ll be told to get it cut pretty soon. I’ll wait for that moment.”