Daytona 500 Media Day (Ryan Blaney)

RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards/Peak Ford Mustang Dark Horse – IS THIS RACE THE HOLE IN THE RESUME RIGHT NOW? WHAT WOULD THIS MEAN TO ADD A 500 RING TO YOUR LEGACY? “I feel like I’ve been close to this thing a couple of times. I had a good shot to win it a couple years ago and it just didn’t work out. When people ask me that, I mean, that’s the dream deal. You win the championship and then turn right around and win the 500. The last person to do it was Dale Jarrett in 2000 I think someone said, so it’s about time someone maybe does it again. We’ll see. You just try to learn from experiences from previous races here and figure out, ‘Hey, what did we do well to put us in a spot to win? And what decisions did I make that kind of kept us out of victory lane?’ And you just hope to find yourself in those spots again and try to make the right decision, so we’ll see. You just try to be rolling at the end of it and hopefully you’re there, but I’m excited for it. It should be great and try to add the 500 onto RP’s Rolex 24 that he got not too long ago here.”

DO YOU GO INTO SUNDAY EXPECTING THERE WILL BE OVERTIME? “Honestly, it’s not something I think about. If there is one, I’d like to make it to overtime. That’s one of the biggest parts, but, yeah, I think you’ve seen that a lot here recently. That’s just a product of it. You get down to the last handful of laps and people are shoving super hard. You have people shoving hard in wrong places and you cause big wrecks. That’s just what it is, so I wouldn’t say I expect overtime. Like I said, it’s not really something I think about, but it’s something that seems to be a normal thing now.”

DO YOU GO BACK AND WATCH VIDEO OF THE FINAL 10 LAPS FROM PREVIOUS 500 RACES? “Yeah, I look at it all. For example, I watch through the couple weeks leading up to this race I watched last year’s 500. I watched ‘22’s 500. I watch each summer race from here the last couple of years, and then I watch even some Talladega races, just drafting tracks, just trying to see scenarios. I usually look at other places I look at my scenarios and that’s just me and my spotter do that work of like what did we do well, what did we do poorly. Even the finishes here it’s like, what move did this guy make at the end of the race last year and in ‘22 that got him the win, so you try to study all that. You never know. There are a million, trillion situations that can pop up, but you just try to figure out that maybe there are some similarities to this situation that you might find yourself in and you just try to dump all the stuff into your brain that you hope to subconsciously pop up if you are in that position and it worked out for those guys who ended up winning the race.”

THE MUSTANG DARK HORSE NOSE IS DIFFERENT. DO YOU FORESEE ANY CHANGE IN HOW THE CAR WILL PUSH OR BE PUSHED IN COMPARISON TO LAST YEAR? “It’s shaped a little bit differently, but it’s hard to tell. You can look at it as much as you want. You can test it in the wind tunnel as much as you want. You can make your assumptions, but until we get out there in the Duels tomorrow night it’s hard to tell. Until you actually have somebody pushing you down the frontstretch, pushing you down the backstretch, getting pushed, pushing somebody else, you just don’t know. That’s the best way to test it. I’ve always been a field tester. That’s the best way you’re gonna find your data, but I think it’s hopefully fairly similar. I thought that’s what made the Fords so strong at these speedways was our ability to push and take pushes from obviously fellow Fords, but other manufacturers as well, so hopefully we still have that strength and I think we will.”

ARE THERE ANY DIFFERENCES IN HOW YOUR TEAM IS APPROACHING THIS YEAR COMPARED TO OTHERS? “I think it just builds confidence in our whole group. It’s not only me, it’s everybody on our team having confidence in knowing that you can do things that you believe in. I think everybody believes obviously that you can win the championship, but until you’ve done it, you don’t know if you can do it, so that knowing part, I think, is really a strong thing to have and I think our group is really good at accepting that and holding their heads up high. You never want to be cocky, but confidence is really important to have and I think our group is embracing that very well, so I’m really happy they get to experience that, too.”

WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO BE THE GUY WHO FINISHES SECOND IN THIS RACE? “I remember it. I remember every little detail of how you run second. Drivers obviously remember it. You remember the ones you lose. The ones that sting I feel like you remember those even more. You remember every little detail about them, so, yeah, we’ve run second here twice. I feel like I’ve had a great shot to win it maybe two or three other times and it just hasn’t played out. I try to take those as things like running second or close to winning this thing and not doing it, but I always try to take things from it as, ‘OK, we did a really good job of putting ourselves in a spot to win this race. What can I do and what can we do as a team to try to change the outcome of that?’ Great, you get there, but you’re just gathering data and previous experiences and I think that’s nice. Someone told me that this is my 10th Daytona 500, which is crazy. I’ve been lucky to have some good runs in it, so you just try to get all of that stuff that you’ve learned and try to change it. You do all that stuff and you could get wadded up on lap two and it goes for nothing, but you just try to take all of the info and experience that you can and, hopefully, you’re in a spot to where you can use it. That’s all you ask for is a chance to use this stuff that you’ve learned and apply it, and that’s the biggest thing. Hopefully, we can try to get it done, so we’ll see.”

WHAT IS THE ONE DETAIL OR ONE THING THAT STANDS OUT THAT HAUNTS YOU? “I look at the two that I vividly remember the most. We ran second in 2017 to Kurt and that was a weird one. I couldn’t have done anything different. We got strung out. Guys were running out of gas. I couldn’t get there. But then I look at 2020 when we ran second and me, Denny and Ryan were racing. Yeah, I mean I look back and it’s easy to Monday quarterback the thing and be like, ‘We’ll just make a different move.’ It’s hard to make those decisions in that moment. You’re trying to process a million thoughts in a millisecond and you have no time to think about them, process them, apply them. You’re doing it off of action and sometimes you make the wrong choice. Obviously, I would have liked to do something different in 2020. I would have like to choose a different lane. And then in 2022 I had a great shot to win it pushing Austin and, yeah, it was the same thing. I thought I waited until the correct moment to make sure one of us won the race, but I just wish I would have made a different move. Like I said, it’s easy to look back on those things now and you never know how that leader is gonna react. You never know where they’re gonna go. You’re guessing as well as them of guessing where you’re going, so you just look at those little things and sometimes I try not to get too bent out of shape about them. I try to just learn from them like, ‘Alright, maybe if you’re in this spot again, do something different and then move on.’ I try to not let it eat at me, those tough ones, so just those little things and gathering experience. Or, maybe you’re known for a certain move and maybe you do something different. You try to keep people guessing, so you’re just always trying to change up things and those close ones it’s easy to say what you should have changed up, but you can’t change them up at that race, you just try to do them for the future.”

WHAT DO YOU HOPE YOUR VOICE CARRIES AND WHAT IMPACT DO YOU HOPE YOU CAN MAKE OUTSIDE AND INSIDE THE SPORT NOW THAT YOU HAVE THIS POSITION AS A CHAMPION? “There are multiple sides to that. There’s opportunities outside of the sport, I feel like, that are important to do and I got to do a good amount of them in the winter. There are a lot of them coming down the pipeline for this year that I’m really excited about to grow the sport outside of the racetrack and its inner workings, but then also in the sport I feel like your voice does have some – I think people trust you and believe you a lot. It’s really funny. You do something like win a championship and now people maybe listen a little more to what you’re saying. It’s like, ‘OK, maybe it’s a little different.’ But I do think it’s important, for me, I’ve never been one to always raise my hand and speak up with anything that’s on my mind. If I speak out on something that’s really important to me, and I really have a strong feeling about it. I’ve always thought that less words used the right way is better than a lot of words used for nothing, so I think that’s something I might do a little bit more is maybe bringing up things that I think are important for this sport and bringing them up more, whether it’s internally with NASCAR or if it gets to doing them externally in the public, then maybe I have to, but I’m never gonna be one to have a voice just to have a voice. It has to have a purpose, and then I think I need to pay attention a little bit more to issues going on because I’ll probably get asked about them more because you are a champion and people are gonna ask, ‘What do you think about this and that?’ So, i probably need to pay attention more to those little details so I know what I’m talking about if I do get asked about that stuff, but I think using your voice when it’s an important time to do that, to where you have some weight behind it, is something I’ll try to utilize this year.”

IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIFIC YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE OF WHAT’S COMING DOWN THE PIPELINE? “There are a few things we’re working on. They’re in the early stages though.”

HOW MUCH HAVE YOU AND TIM SAT DOWN STARTED BREAKING DOWN FILM FOR SUPERSPEEDWAY RACES? “I’ve been excited to work with Tim Fedewa. It was great to have him at the test in Phoenix. It was great to have him at the Clash. He did a great job, but this is obviously a whole other deal and we’ve spent a lot of time looking at film, listening to audio of certain situations like watching me and the 4 race in the fall at Talladega. That was a perfect thing. He’s spotting. I’m driving other cars, so I think working that stuff out is good, and I think I’ve always kind of on-track kind of figuring out how things go. You can talk about all this stuff all you want, just like with the new car and the new body, but until you actually get out there and you work out your things, I think that’s good to do. We’ll see how the Duel goes tomorrow night and then he and I will sit down and be like, ‘Hey, let’s do more of this or less of this,’ and just kind of tweak our game plan. But, I feel like we’ve done all we can to lead up to it for now and hopefully it does well. I’m excited for him though. He’s a great guy. He showed me a picture the other day of my dad, him and Randy LaJoie here in ‘99 before a Busch race, which was pretty neat.”

IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN TAKE FROM THE CHAMPIONSHIP RUN THAT YOU CAN APPLY TO THIS YEAR IN THE REGULAR SEASON? “I think something our team did a really good job at through the summer especially is when we weren’t running very good they didn’t freak out. They didn’t lose their mind. They just understood that some things we were trying weren’t working and we had to work in other areas. They just did it calmly and I think that was great. That is what mentally prepared us for the playoffs. People say, ‘Oh, you ran terrible all year until the playoffs.’ Well, we were leading the points until the summer break and then we went down a path that really didn’t work, but it helped us learn what not to do for the playoffs, that, honestly, running bad in the summer really helped us for the playoffs because we understood where we don’t need to work on and we needed to work in other areas. I think that’s what made me super proud of them. They were very calm and collected and really worked hard, so I think having that demeanor going forward is good when things aren’t going great. Don’t freak out. Just do the work and try to get better and give all the feedback you can to figure out how to get better. What parts of the track you need to get better on, and then I think the confidence things is great too. I said earlier that I think everyone on this group has huge confidence of knowing what we can accomplish and trying to figure out how in the heck we do it again.”

WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR YOU COMING IN HERE WITH BEING THE CHAMPION? “I didn’t really have a different outlook on this place after winning the championship. This place is special by itself and I think the only thing that changed is the confidence level and, like I said, you don’t ever want to be cocky. It’s having belief in yourself. Listen, I’ve never been a very confident human being, so any little bits of confidence I can grab and apply to myself is really good and it helps me personally and internally, so I think that is the biggest thing is like when the garage opens today, I think that’s what everyone on the 12 group is gonna have of everyone seeing them and having the number one garage stall is great and that confidence for them is great to start off this week, but, as far as this place goes, it’s special in itself. Championship or not, you understand the meaning behind this place. I’ve been in awe of this place every time I drive through the tunnel ever since I was born. It hasn’t changed 30 years later.”

HAVE ANY OF YOUR PEERS ASKED YOU FOR FEELINGS ON SOMETHING? HAS THAT CHANGED IN THE GARAGE AT ALL? “I haven’t really been around them too much since then.  No, I feel like it’s something cool that Joey and I can share now as teammates. That’s kind of nice that we can kind of share that. We already have a great relationship with each other working together, but I feel like now that you have something really special you can share with each other it even makes your relationship stronger, so that part is good. But, yeah, none of that really yet.”

WHAT HAS THE REACTION BEEN LIKE TO THE NETFLIX DOCUMENTARY? “I thought it was positive. I haven’t seen too many negative things about it, honestly. I think everyone really enjoyed it and you hope it reaches across the board. You hope it reaches the NASCAR fan already, and then you hope it reaches somebody who doesn’t know anything about the sport. That’s what that platform does – Netflix. I met a lot of people in L.A. who were like, ‘This is our first race because we watched the Netflix documentary. We were intrigued and we want to check it out.’ That’s what you hope to do. That’s how you have to grasp people. It gets harder and harder to grasp a new audience every year whatever it is – any sport. It’s hard to grab. How do you make somebody a fan of what you do and just putting a product on TV, on the track, on the field, on the court, that’s not enough anymore. You have to be relatable and these shows have really done a good job of relating to people who don’t do that sport, showing us as people, showing us in our every day lives, showing the emotions of the playoffs, the ups and downs, the heartaches of it. For some reason as a human race, we love seeing heartache and pain and I think the documentary showed a lot of heartache and pain in the playoffs and pride, and I think people really liked that. I have no idea what it’s like to be an NFL quarterback, but watching that show and seeing those guys it gave me a whole new perspective. Like, ‘Man, I like that guy.’ You can kind of relate to those people, so I think it did a good job. Hopefully, it sticks around. Hopefully, it comes back because I think people really enjoyed it and I think the drivers enjoyed opening up as well, and I think you would have more drivers open up even more if it comes back again. You kind of understand what it does, the reach that it has, and I think you’re gonna have more people be like, ‘OK.’ Really open your doors. I opened my doors up probably 80 percent. Some guys were more and some guys were less, and I think if that comes back that more guys will open their doors up a lot more, which is good.”

DO YOU FEEL THERE WILL BE ANY MORE OR LESS AGGRESSION DURING THE DUELS WITH TRYING TO FIGURE OUT THE NEW CARS? “The Duels I always try to approach them, obviously you want to be smart in the Duels. You’re trying to win it and there are some points involved, but the last thing you want to do is wreck your 500 car kind of making a dumb move, but at the same time you can’t just ride around the back because this is your biggest chance to figure out what your car handles like in a pack. Friday, Saturday, you’re not gonna have a big pack racing like that and drafting just because it’s close to the 500, so this is the best chance to figure out what you need for Sunday, so I’ve always tried to put myself in funky spots in the Duels, spots that I would be in in the 500 – really close to someone’s back bumper exiting four with someone close to your outside. How does your car react to that? So, I think you have to be smart about everything, but also you need to figure out what you need to work on. We’ll see. The Duels, I never know how they’re gonna go. I’ve sat up here and been like, ‘I think they’re gonna be boring and they’ve been wreck fests and crazy.’ And then I’ve said, ‘It’s gonna be exciting and it’s single-file the whole time.’ So you never know how everyone is gonna feel tomorrow night.”

ARE YOU CALLED RFB NOW AFTER THE NETFLIX SHOW? “I don’t know. She was mortified when that was caught on microphone. When we watched it a few days before it came out she’s like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe they put that in there.’ And it was on the trailer. I was like, ‘That’s bold putting it on the trailer.’ But it was fine. I think she’s gotten over her embarrassment of that and she’s embraced it. She’s like, ‘Yeah, I said that.’ So, maybe we’ll make some shirts. I can’t have the full wording on the shirts, but we’ll bleep out some letters.”

DID JOEY GIVE YOU THE CHAMPION’S JOURNAL? DID IT SAY ANYTHING THAT STUCK OUT? “I can’t tell you what it said. It’s very cool.”

ANY ADVICE ON HOW TO DEFEND A CHAMPIONSHIP? “Joey was super helpful to me through the playoffs. I mean, him being in spots multiple times and winning a couple of championships he was really helpful to me and kind of understanding. I picked his brain a little bit. Everyone approaches things differently, but just kind of picking his brain on at Phoenix, how did you approach the week leading up to it and things like that, and he was super helpful to me, and I appreciate that from him. We try to work with each other very, very well and we’ve done that, so it’s always nice to kind of have a teammate like that. That’s what you want. You never want teammates at each other’s throats and we’ve been lucky to have a good relationship. He helped me out a lot through the championship run. I don’t know if I’ll get much help anymore (laughing), but he’s been fantastic. Hopefully, we can continue to work really well together and compete with each other for many championships to come.”

WERE YOU ALWAYS GOING TO BE A RACER? “Yeah, that’s what I wanted to be. I never knew if it was actually gonna happen or not. I had a lot of great opportunities of my dad getting me involved in it early. As a kid, I just wanted to do what my dad did and, like I said, I was super lucky to get some opportunities to be able to do what he did and have his support along the way. I tried other sports, but I came to the realization that I’m a very short kid and I will never make it in any other stick and ball sport. I’m a scrawny little kid, so racing seems good and I have a lot of opportunities and I’m OK with it. It’s what I always wanted to be, so I’m super lucky it came true.”

ANY MOMENT WHERE YOU WONDERED IF IT WAS GOING TO PAN OUT? “Always. You never know if things are gonna work out or not. You can get the best opportunities ever and you struggle for a few years and your opportunity is gone, so, yeah, growing up you’re always scared to death of not having a job and everything not working out, so you just work hard at it and it kind of motivates you. But, yeah, definitely when you get going you’re like, ‘I don’t think this is gonna work out. I don’t know.’ When I wrecked my second Xfinity race I thought my career was over and, luckily, Tommy Baldwin had another car I could drive for a few more races, so you always had that thought.”

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