Ryan Blaney already has his bags packed for next November in Las Vegas
Ryan Blaney has a new favorite song.
It’s an oldie but goodie by Elvis Presley, but the up-and-coming young NASCAR star can’t be faulted for singing, humming or whistling it: “Viva Las Vegas!”
The reason is simple: Blaney attended his first NASCAR Awards more than three weeks ago in Las Vegas. Because he qualified for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, he was among the 16 drivers that were feted and toasted in what was Martin Truex Jr.’s celebratory party.
After having so much fun in Vegas, including doing burnouts on the famed Strip, Blaney is bound and determined to make it back to the land of slots, shows and speed every year.
To do that, he’ll have to make the NASCAR Cup playoffs each year too, but at 23 years old (he turns 24 on Dec. 31), Blaney likely has another 15 to 20 awards shows still left to attend.
And maybe a championship or two or three for him to be feted just like Truex this year, Jimmie Johnson last year and so many others that have preceded him as NASCAR’s best.
“It was a good time,” Blaney said. “I had a lot of fun. I was out there all week. The things we got to be able to do like the podcast we did, meet a lot of fans, drive up and down Las Vegas Boulevard and do some burnouts, to see how many people lined the street to see us was pretty neat.
“It felt good to have fun with the other drivers outside of the season. And then of course the Awards Banquet was a blast, as well. It was my first experience with Champions Week and hopefully I’ll be able to keep going back there every single year for the rest of my driving days.”
Other than the Awards show, Blaney’s favorite experience was driving on the Strip. But you’ll love his reason why:
“For multiple reasons,” Blaney said. “First, you never can do a burnout on Las Vegas Boulevard without getting arrested and we were able to do that, so that was nice.
“Also, honestly, driving the No. 21 car for the last time, the last time I was going to be in that car, that was really special to me, driving up and down the Strip. That was probably the coolest experience, I think.”
Blaney said he’ll always treasure his time driving the No. 21 Ford for the legendary Wood Brothers Racing, especially winning his first career Cup race this summer at Pocono, which was the 99th win in Wood Brothers annals.
He tried his best to get the 100th win, but fell short.
“I’ve used that word, bittersweet, a lot the last couple months,” Blaney said. “As the races were winding down with them, it was really sad to leave the Wood Brothers because they were so good to me and a great family.
“I was kind of sad to leave there, but at the same time, it’s a dream to go drive for Roger Penske. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so I’m looking forward to that.
“But, yeah, it was bittersweet feeling, for sure. I can’t thank the Wood Brothers enough for the last two years.”
Now, Blaney takes the next big step of his career by driving the No. 12 Ford in 2018 for an equally legendary team owner, Roger Penske.
“I’m really looking forward to being in-house over at the Penske group,” he said, “and being able to bring back the 12 car, that’s a really big deal and we’re real excited to get that team up and running and expand and hopefully make us stronger.”
To drive for two of the most legendary teams and team owners in all forms of motorsports might be a heady thing for some young drivers, but not for Blaney.
Instead of worried, he’s relaxed. Instead of feeling pressure, he embraces that he’s been chosen to be an integral part of one legendary team and now another equally legendary team.
“No, not really, there hasn’t been any pressure,” Blaney said. “I’ve just been really lucky and fortunate to drive for a couple great owners and families and teams.
“They’re two of the most iconic teams in racing and I’ve been lucky enough to drive for both of them. To go drive for Mr. Penske is great and hopefully I’ll be there for the rest of my career.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I wouldn’t say there’s any added pressure, I’m just very fortunate to be in this position and be able to drive for some great people.
“I almost see it more as opportunity. It kind of makes me strive harder to do even better. I’ve always enjoyed challenges and feel like this is a good challenge and I’m excited to accept it.”
So Blaney will win the Daytona 500 two months from now, right?
“I hope so. We were close last year (finished second in this year’s 500). We’ll see if we can do one better this time around.”
And if he does win the 500, you can bet he’ll be singing “Viva Las Vegas” in victory lane.