Ryan Blaney Focused on Making Gains with Wood Brothers Team

For racers like Ryan Blaney, there’s nothing like gaining experience on the track to not only excel with competing at the highest level of NASCAR, but to also gain the respect of his peers whom he battles door-to-door at some of the toughest stock car venues in the country.

While he and his No. 21 SKF Wood Brothers Racing Ford Fusion team race on a half season basis on the Spring Cup side, he’s been able to compile solid results with a fourth at Talladega as well as top-five finishes in the No. 22 Team Penske XFINITY Series ride and the No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Camping World Truck Series drive.

To say the least, Blaney has experienced the highs and lows of NASCAR racing this year, particularly on the NASCAR Sprint Cup side with the No. 21 team.  However, he’s taken both in stride and looks towards the positives about his team’s strength as well as the valuable track time that he’s gained with the XFINITY and Truck rides.

“It’s been fun to be able to drive a lot of different cars this year,” Blaney said following Friday’s Cup practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  “Whether it’s Brad’s truck team again and doing the XFINITY deal with the 22 car and Team Penske, it’s always great to drive that.  To be able to do this deal with the Wood Brothers with the Penske alliance has been a lot of fun.  Even though we’ve not had the best of races as of late or blowing up a few times or missing the races due to rain, we have fast cars every week.

That’s something that you have to be really proud of when we don’t race every single weekend and have half a schedule.  It’s been great to work with these great guys and definitely running those two other series has really helped me with the Cup car.  Just getting laps on racetracks and a lot of experience, even though those Cup cars are a lot different than the other two, it still gives you a lot of experience with learning the racetracks. There’s things that you apply to those cars that you can apply to Cup cars too.”

At age 21, Blaney is one of the leading forces of NASCAR’s youth movement.  Named to the NASCAR NEXT roster in 2012, the High Point, NC native has been sensational, showing remarkable poise and maturity in the driver’s seat and with racing his peers on the track.  Taking the checkered flag at Iowa in the 2012 Truck race and at Kentucky in the 2013 XFINITY fall event, to say that this young racer has potential is a bit of an understatement.

Despite those successes, Blaney recognizes how the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series lends itself to a closer and higher level of competition, translating to a driver who’ll apply every experience during the race to take on a stronger approach with each race.

Ryan Blaney and his No. 21 SKF Wood Brothers Racing Ford team have put together a quiet weekend so far at Loudon, NH.

Ryan Blaney and his No. 21 SKF Wood Brothers Racing Ford team have put together a quiet weekend so far at Loudon, NH.

“It’s a lot tougher,” Blaney observed.  “The jump from Trucks to XFINITY to Cup is huge and it’s been a big learning curve for me.  If you don’t run top-10 in the Truck or XFINITY car, you’re really disappointed but you’re really happy if you can do that over here as it’s that big of a jump and leap.  The competition is so high here and there’s a reason why everybody in the garage area over here is in the Cup Series.  They earned it and they deserve to be here.

It’s been a lot of fun racing with everyone this year but that learning curve has been pretty steep for me.  Luckily, they’ve all been pretty good to me with me being a rookie.  It’s definitely taken a lot to really know the competition and it’s a lot more challenging than the other two series for sure.”

Feedback between driver and crew chief is absolutely indelible, as seen with some of the sport’s strongest combinations in recent years like with Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus or with Brad Keselowski’s rapport with Paul Wolfe.  Whether it’s in the legendary No. 21 Cup car or in the familiar No. 29 truck, Blaney knows he has to give it his all given the heavy competition with NASCAR racing, especially in the most premier level of this sport.

“I give a 100 percent effort no matter what car I’m in but it does make you work a little bit harder,” Blaney said.  “A hundredths of tenths counts when it comes to Cup racing and it goes back to that competition side of how it’s so close and how the competition level is so high.  You really have to keep pushing yourself and learning more about the racecar by driving differently and trying different things every single lap in the race.

I have found that it’s made me push a little bit harder going over to the Cup side just because it’s so tough to run well. That’s always a good thing whenever you have something that makes you push harder and strive to something better.”

Equally as important as having good rapport with the team, solid pit stops, and fast racecars for each race weekend is a driver who appreciates each opportunity out on the track, races hard for his teammates, and gives it a complete effort to net an excellent race result.

Reflecting on the past few weeks, where rainstorms at Daytona and Kentucky relegated them to missing the field due to starting in less races than most of the Cup entries, Blaney kept his head up high, pointing out how his team has made the most of each weekend on the track.

“It makes you work even harder when you’ve had a good run going,” Blaney said.  “When something unfortunate happens like an engine failure or like last weekend at Kentucky, where we practiced well but we didn’t make the race, you can’t be all down about, ‘Well, you didn’t make the race or you didn’t finish it’ because we’ve had good cars and it makes you strive harder to prove that you can run up there every single weekend and not be a one-off thing.

That’s something that we really look forward to coming to the racetrack every week with this Wood Brothers team and knowing that we can run up front.  It’s really neat (with) what we can do and where we can run considering we’re not at the racetrack every single weekend.  That’s really tough not only for me as a driver but for my crew chief and those crew guys working on the cars.  It takes a lot of reps to get back going and it speaks a lot to them about coming to the racetrack.  To swap over to qualifying trim in 20 minutes with a really fast racecar again, it makes us work harder and that’s why I love this team.”

So far, the race weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sunday’s 5-hour ENERGY 301 (Live on NBCSN at 1 PM ET) has gone relatively well for Blaney and his No. 21 team.  In opening practice on Friday, they compiled the 10th fastest speed and time, posting an effort of 28.630 seconds or 133.035 mph.  Later in the day, this combination logged the 16th fastest effort in qualifying, negotiating around “The Magic Mile” in 28.422 seconds or 134.009 mph.

Prior to qualifying on Friday, Blaney reflected on his two starts at this 1.058-mile venue in the Truck race last year and the Modified race in 2012.  Despite his limited experience at NHMS, there’s a sense of familiarity with racing in the Granite State along with a few flat track offerings in NASCAR.

Ryan Blaney finds Loudon to be similar to Martinsville, Phoenix, and Greenville Pickens Speedway.

Ryan Blaney finds Loudon to be similar to Martinsville, Phoenix, and Greenville Pickens Speedway.

“I really like New Hampshire,” Blaney said.  “It’s been a good racetrack for us.  I had a modified ride here a few years ago and it didn’t end well as I got wrecked.  We had a really good truck last year.  I think we ran second most of the race and we got shuffled back with pit strategy.  We ended up getting spun out but I think we came back to finish in the top-10.  This has been a fun racetrack for us in the couple of times that I’ve been here.  Our Cup car seems to be pretty good in qualifying trim. We’ll see where she’s at in qualifying and race trim (Saturday), we’ll see where we stack up.

If I can relate it to any other racetrack, it’d almost be like a Phoenix turn 3 and 4.  Phoenix is really flat in turns 3 and 4 and you kind of grab the apron.  That’s kind of what you do here.  It’s really what it reminds me of with the really long, flat corners.  The banking is almost like Martinsville but Martinsville has such tigher corners.  The radius here is probably three times of what Martinsville is as you feel like you’re out in the corners forever.  There’s different things that you can apply it to and you can apply it to tracks when I was racing in the late model days with really long, flat corners like Greensville-Pickens.  Those would be the racetracks that New Hampshire mostly reminds me of.”

No matter how Blaney’s race day turns out on Sunday, he points out that the people that he meets as being a NASCAR racer makes any kind of day at the track quite memorable and helps puts things in perspective when he clambers out of his racecar.  Earlier in the year, he was able to console one of his racing fans, Ashley Cote, when he grandmother passed away when he tweeted, “Sorry to hear about the bad news Ashley. Stay strong!”

From the brave men and women of the military to a courageous boy whom Blaney met at Kentucky Speedway last weekend, it really puts things in a balanced perspective about life and racing, as he talked about that meeting and some background on his No. 21 car’s colors for the Brickyard next weekend.

“One of the great things besides being able to drive racecars is that we get to meet a bunch of cool people,” Blaney said.  “Not only do we meet the fans, but we get to meet military personnel and that’s really been neat for me.  It makes me a lot more grateful when I think that I’ve had a bad day and then I’ve heard someone losing their grandmother. I met a kid last week with this program that we actually have as part of our paint scheme for Indianapolis next weekend with JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) named Brian at Kentucky who has type 1 diabetes.

What these kids did was draw a car and entered it to win for what the car would look like at Indianapolis for the JDRF.  He was in the top-10 and while he didn’t win, he’s got a great outlook on things for a nine year old.  We stood back and thought about that stuff.  It really makes you appreciate what you’ve got a lot more and know it’s not the end of the world when you don’t make a race or if you’ve had a bad race day or you get wrecked.  You look at what other people are going through and it makes you realize that you don’t have it all that bad.  That’s one of the cool things that you get to do with meeting fans and it makes you more grateful for what you get to do.”

Just as legendary motorsports announcer Ken Squier once said about racecar drivers, Blaney and his peers are common folks who are doing uncommon deeds with bravery and commitment.  A third generation racer who’s made a name for himself as a truly talented NASCAR racer, the potential for sustained success in this level of stock car racing is just as prevalent as a stellar showing this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

As he’s shown throughout his career and this season, Blaney has shown that he does belong in the Cup ranks as a truly competitive rising star with a team that duplicates his poise and determination on the track.

The future is now with this young gun racer ready to show that he has what it takes to be a consistent contender for wins with humility, class, and a desire to be a truly driven but respected racer amongst his teammates and peers.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. Born and raised in the Boston, MA area, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it’s about anything with an engine and four wheels, you’ll likely see an article on The Podium Finish by either myself or one of my talented columnists who absolutely have the motorsports passion.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

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