In the Hot Seat with Ryan Blaney

In general, Ryan Blaney enjoys his terrific 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. (Photo: Jonathan Huff | The Podium Finish)

In general, Ryan Blaney enjoys his terrific 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. (Photo: Jonathan Huff | The Podium Finish)

All things considered, Ryan Blaney continually evolves as a formidable NASCAR Cup Series contender. Moreover, the 27-year-old High Point, N.C. progresses as one of motorsports’ most humble, selfless icons around.

In this case, the eighth-year Cup Series driver is methodical on the track. Usually, Blaney, who turns up the wick when it matters, finds himself toward the front in the latter portions of races.

Moreover, Blaney, a third-generation racer, enjoys a career season with three wins. Fittingly, Blaney emerged victorious at three of NASCAR’s distinct superspeedways at Atlanta, Michigan and Daytona.

Presently, Blaney ranks fifth in the NASCAR Playoffs standings heading into Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts Salute to American Heroes 400 at Richmond. Of course, Blaney vies for a victory at the 0.75-mile short track for a much calmer path into the Round of 12.

Recently, I caught up with Blaney ahead of the NASCAR Playoffs following his wins at Michigan and Daytona. Now, let’s all get “In the Hot Seat with Ryan Blaney” here on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson : With the Playoffs kicking off, you scored Team Penske’s first win of the year at Atlanta, your fifth career Cup victory. How exhilarating was that win considering how you and your No. 12 team worked on your car to be able to challenge and pass Kyle Larson for the ultimate moment of that race?

Undoubtedly, Ryan Blaney soaks in his Daytona victory. (Photo: Jonathan Huff | The Podium Finish)

Undoubtedly, Ryan Blaney soaks in his Daytona victory. (Photo: Jonathan Huff | The Podium Finish)

Ryan Blaney : To win early like that was great.  I remember a lot of it, just kind of how our car was handling throughout the race with the changes we made to kind of make it better and better throughout the race.  One of the things I really learned and I remember is my car would pretty much run a lot of different lanes.

We talk about one and two is pretty wide, you kind of have a bunch of options there, but three and four everyone always talks about the bottom and you have to be on the bottom.  I feel like that is the preferred lane, especially on long runs, but I could run the fence pretty good in three and four, and that’s how I got by Kyle is I was able to get off the fence, so that, to me, was really big for our group — that I could run the wall in three and four if I had to.

Let’s say I was kind of slowed up behind a car or something like that, I could bail to the top and get in some clean air and actually able to make lap time up there.  You don’t want to do that every lap, but that’s something I really remember.

Tiongson : While your crew chief Todd Gordon will retire by the end of this season, what has it been like to work with him in terms of your communication and chemistry with you and your team?

Perhaps crew chief Todd Gordon has Ryan Blaney practicing his latest Jedi mind tricks. (Photo: Jonathan Huff | The Podium Finish)

Perhaps crew chief Todd Gordon has Ryan Blaney practicing his latest Jedi mind tricks. (Photo: Jonathan Huff | The Podium Finish)

Blaney : I’m really proud.  Obviously, you want to be doing better and better, but I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do — the whole team.  I think Todd and I got along so well because at the racetrack we’re almost kind of a yin and yang kind of thing.  I can get fired up on the radio and Todd is very calm and it evens itself out with those personalities when we’re doing our jobs.

All the crew chiefs I’ve worked with have been very open-minded on listening to your ideas and what you have to say about the race cars and integrating them, so that’s never been an issue.  My thoughts this year — when Todd announced he was retiring — I wasn’t upset about it or nothing, I was motivated to make it a good last year for Todd.

That’s my main priority right now and keep working on a crew chief for 2022 and beyond.  That’s the second priority, but we’re still working on that.  Right now, my priority is to go try to win races and go try to get a championship for Todd in his last year.

Tiongson : There’s been a lot of newness for NASCAR, especially the new tracks like Circuit of the Americas, Road America and the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course layout. What’s your thoughts on the Cup series racing at these road courses to diversify a typically oval dominated schedule?

Blaney : Personally, I enjoy the road racing stuff.  You haven’t seen this many road courses ever on the Cup side and I think it’s good, just going to some new places like COTA, Road America — bringing the Cup cars there.  That’s a great racetrack up in Wisconsin.  Indy road course and Sonoma, obviously we know Sonoma, so there are a few new ones on the schedule that I think it’s just great.

It’s good to try new things, bring the Cup Series to new areas of the country that maybe people out there haven’t necessarily seen a Cup race or a NASCAR race in general like COTA.  That’s new for NASCAR in general down in Austin, so I think it’s good.  I like how NASCAR is expanding to different types of areas and racetracks, but you’re definitely gonna have to step up your road course program.

We don’t just have two like it used to be a few years ago.  You’ve got a pretty good amount now, so you have to really put an even bigger emphasis on the road courses.

Tiongson : Along with your racing efforts, you’ve formed an authentic connection with fans, particularly with kids at the track and on social media. How humbling is it when you get to interact with these young fans who look up to you as one of their favorite drivers, and in some cases, as a role model for their racing efforts?

Cue "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Cue “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Blaney : Young fans are the future of our sport. Some of them might grow up to be racers, others will just be dedicated lifelong fans. It’s important for all of us to recognize our responsibility to make memories and moments with young fans when we have the opportunity to do so. That goes for all fans. Without fans, we don’t have a sport. It is humbling though to have so many people pull for you and follow your career.

Tiongson : You established your foundation in 2018 that supports The Alzheimer’s Association and UPMC Sports Medicine. As your foundation continues to make a difference for those who may have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s, what are some ways fans can help?

Blaney : Fans can check out the Ryan Blaney Family Foundation online and pick up exclusive merchandise with the proceeds going to support our foundation efforts. We’re on the verge of doing some really cool things and continuing to raise money for research on Alzheimer’s and hopefully one day bring an end to this terrible disease.

Tiongson : You and your peers will be part of a NASCAR docuseries filmed during this year’s Playoffs which will air next year on USA Network. What’s your thoughts on this series potentially bringing in new fans into NASCAR?

"It’s definitely not the drivers who get this car on the racetrack.  We just race them." - Ryan Blaney (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

“It’s definitely not the drivers who get this car on the racetrack.  We just race them.” – Ryan Blaney (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Blaney : Whenever you can grow the sport, the recognition to yourself and your team and your sponsors and give the fan watching kind of a sneak peek on how some things operate, whether it’s in your personal life or prep work throughout the week that gets you to the track I think that’s great.

I look forward to that.  I think it’s a good idea to give people a little bit more information because a lot of people try to keep all that stuff secret and sometimes the fan or the person watching at home doesn’t get to see the full aspect.

I really want people to see the things around the race shop, the people that it takes to put a race car together.  It’s not just the people that you see at the racetrack every single weekend.  It’s definitely not the drivers who get this car on the racetrack.  We just race them.

We get a lot of the attention, but there are a lot more people involved in it that need to get recognition too. So I hope that show can really highlight that stuff from all the men and women who are a huge part of the original start of building these chassis to the engine dropping in.  So, I think it’s great and we’ll see where that all ends up.

Tiongson : Your family has a rich legacy in motorsports particularly in dirt track and stock car racing. What does it mean for you to carry on your family’s name each time you suit up and get in that No. 12 car?

Blaney : I was blessed to be born into a racing family.  Obviously, growing up I watched a lot of my dad’s career, from a distance my uncle’s career.  I wish I could go back in time and see more of my grandfather’s career from his prime.  Above all though, I’m a competitor and that really fuels me more than anything when I get in the car.

Tiongson : Recently, you talked about how you handle the mental pressures that comes with being a NASCAR racer.  Personally and professionally, how important is it to you to catalyze and break stigmas with mental health with your platform?

Blaney : Yeah, the mental health side, everyone kind of deals with it differently. I deal with it differently than anybody else. That’s just kind of how it is. It’s not my right to tell somebody how to maybe work on theirs. The best thing I can do is just work on mine.

I think the biggest thing that’s helped me is don’t bottle it in. I feel like that’s the best thing. Our jobs, any job really, can be stressful in certain situations. Everyone goes through a stressful time in their job, their career. No matter if it’s sports or working in an office or whatever, you go through stressful times.

I don’t think a lot of people see that, especially on the athlete side. I think a lot of people are like, You make really good money, just shut up and do your sport, shut up and drive.

I mean, we make a great living, but there’s tough things about our sport, too. It can weigh on you. The best thing I do is just be open about it with friends and family, trying to get things off your chest, not bottle things in. I think that can escalate stuff. That’s always helped me.

I’ve been lucky to have a great family around me that I’ve been able to express some of these hard times with. Honestly, in our sport you’re going to lose a lot more than you’re going to win. That’s just the nature of it. You have to really be able to let off some of that steam, be open with people, talk it out. Credit my family and friends for doing that. It’s really helped me out.

Tiongson : What’s your thoughts on growing up from when you were a young driver to the one who’s earned his way with one of the top teams in all of motorsports?

"Take a blink, nine years down the road. It goes by fast, but really fortunate." - Ryan Blaney (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

“Take a blink, nine years down the road. It goes by fast, but really fortunate.” – Ryan Blaney (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Blaney : Gosh, I got talking I think the other day, especially when I see Mr. Penske or everyone over there, I signed with the Penske group in the summer of 2012. I mean, that’s nine years ago. That does not feel like nine years ago. It’s definitely a blur, like you said.

Time flies, that’s for sure. I’ve been really fortunate in my life to drive for some great people and get to know great people. Grow up watching dad run. He supported me all along the way, still does. So, yeah, it’s definitely been a blur.

Nine years ago, I remember sitting down with Brad Keselowski, him wanting me to drive his trucks, meeting Mr. Penske. I was 19 years old, 18, 19 years old. Take a blink, nine years down the road. It goes by fast, but really fortunate. That’s for certain.

Tiongson : What do you see as the biggest challenge in the playoffs?

Blaney : I think our group has been getting better and better within the past couple of months.  Obviously, Hendrick has been strong.  I mean, you can’t deny that.  Larson has been really fast.  Really, every Hendrick car has been really strong. The Gibbs cars have been good, for sure, and I think we’re right there in-between them.

I feel like we’ve just got to do our job the best we can.  I try not to worry about other people and other teams.  You notice where they’re running, but I feel like if I get too interested in where this guy is running, you kind of lose focus of your job.

Like I said, the Gibbs and Hendrick cars will be fast, that’s for sure, and I think we’ll be right there with them.  It’s just all about putting together 10 solid races and trying to transfer in between the rounds.  It’s hard to overlook some of those guys who have been running really strong all year, but I think we’re on the come up right now to where hopefully we’ll be able to run right with them.  I think our speed is getting really close.

Tiongson : Is there any additional pressure in the playoffs? What would you consider to be an OK season if you don’t win the championship?

"It’s just all about putting together 10 solid races and trying to transfer in between the rounds." - Ryan Blaney (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

“It’s just all about putting together 10 solid races and trying to transfer in between the rounds.” – Ryan Blaney (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Blaney : I don’t think there’s any additional pressure.  I mean, you just try and do your job the best you can and hope everyone else does their job the best that they can do it.

Obviously, I think you want to win the championship.  It’s a terrible year if you don’t win the championship, but, for me, one of the things you’ve got to accomplish first is trying to get to the Championship 4 and just give yourself a shot at it.

You just want a shot at it at Phoenix.  We’ve been to the Round of 8 a couple times and haven’t been able to break through into the final race, so goal one is making it to the Championship 4 and then trying to get the championship from there.  That’s the first goal is getting our first appearance in the championship race and then giving it hell at Phoenix.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to Ryan Blaney for taking the time for this latest “In the Hot Seat” interview series on The Podium Finish. Also, thanks to Dan Zacharias and Campbell Marketing & Communications for making this interview possible. You can keep track of Ryan Blaney on his official website, Facebook and Twitter accounts and here on TPF!

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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