Ryan Blaney looks to carry Penske’s speedway success into Daytona 500 win
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — For years, Ryan Blaney had one of the most fascinating seats in NASCAR.
It wasn’t in the No. 12 Ford at Team Penske. It was in a conference room at the team’s Mooresville, North Carolina, shop, or in a team hauler at the track.
There, he would listen to Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski break down races at Talladega and Daytona.
While Keselowski now is a driver/owner at RFK Racing, he built a legacy at Team Penske. That organization has won at least one race at Daytona or Talladega each season for the past nine years. No other Cup team can match that in the same time.
What Keselowski started, Logano continued, followed by Blaney and Austin Cindric, the reigning Daytona 500 champion. Logano starts third after winning his qualifying race Thursday. Cindric is sixth. Blaney starts seventh.
Blaney is among the favorites (along with Logano) in today’s race. Blaney has twice finished runner-up in the Daytona 500 and was fourth in last year’s race. He’s won a series-high three of the last 13 races at Daytona and Talladega.
Blaney’s success at these tracks can be traced to what he learned from Keselowski and Logano. Both have different ways of approaching speedway racing and Blaney absorbed the lessons.
“It was cool being a 21-year-old kid sitting in there with Brad and Joey … and listen to them talk about the speedway stuff when I didn’t know much about it ,” Blaney said. “It was very neat, very insightful. There were some interesting conversations that happened.”
Both Logano and Keselowski are calculating and aggressive at Daytona and Talladega. But each driver has his own style.
“You can’t model yourself after somebody,” Logano said. “You can maybe look at what they’re doing and try to add the good things to what you are, but the bottom line is I’m not Jeff Gordon. I’m not Tony Stewart. I’m not Dale (Earnhardt) Jr.
“I’m not any of these other guys I’ve ever raced against, but I’ve looked at every one of them and seen what they’ve done and tried to add some things to what I do on top of just learning naturally and having experience and learning who you are and what your makeup is. You just have to kind of figure it out. It’s different for everybody.”
That’s what Blaney has done, first when when he was at the Wood Brothers, an affiliate of Team Penske, from 2015-17 and then at Penske after 2018 when he moved over to the No. 12 car. Blaney saw Logano and Keselowski win seven of 16 races at Daytona and Talladega from 2015-18 before he won the fall Talladega race in 2019.
Keselowski says the credit for Team Penske’s success at those tracks goes to many.
“I think all of the drivers came together and really brought something to the table, but I think there was a huge cultural transformation that I was a part of, for sure, that went from, ‘Hey, speedway races are just where we go to wreck four cars a year,’ to ‘Hey, let’s go here and try to win the race,’” Keselowski said.
“That, naturally, inspired and bred confidence in the drivers and the teams to really focus on it and spend the time, whether it was with the car prep or the studying that went with it to be able to put themselves in a position to where when luck didn’t go against them, you could win the race.
“That’s really where you want to be at these plate tracks. You want to be where if you don’t have bad luck, you can win the race, and I think there’s a lot of philosophies in the teams that are probably the opposite of that where if we get good luck, we can win the race, which is fine and sometimes candidly that works just as well.
“But, more often than not, it doesn’t and you can control some of these races. I think they certainly have got them in a really good position to run well for years to come with the drivers and the culture that they have there.”
One lesson Blaney has learned through the years is to keep evolving as a driver.
“I think what’s important is trying to switch things up,” Blaney said. “You always want to keep people guessing. You don’t need everyone to know what moves you make. You might make some good moves, but if everyone knows what you’re going to do, they’re just going to block. So you’re always evolving even when you think you’re good.”