RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards/Peak Ford Mustang Dark Horse – WHERE DO THINGS STAND AFTER THURSDAY? HAVE YOU TALKED TO ANY GUYS? “No, I haven’t talked to anybody. I saw the replays and saw all I needed to see. I’m not gonna call out anybody, but I was just frustrated at getting hooked in the right-rear here multiple times. That’s frustrating when you take a 70g hit last year and I take a 55g hit this year. It’s just frustrating, so it was just aggressive pushes in Duels that I thought were a little bit over the top for the timing of it and for the moment that it was in the Duels, but I haven’t talked to anybody. Hopefully, I just don’t get hooked in the right-rear again because it’s no fun. It sucks.”

HOW WAS THE BACKUP CAR AND WERE YOU PLANNING ON GOING OUT TODAY? “No, we weren’t planning on it regardless of rain or not. I thought the backup car yesterday was good. I kind of learned all I needed to learn in the small pack that we had, kind of getting pushed, I wanted to feel that. How can I take a push? How can I push somebody? How did it handle in a couple of funky situations off of four? And I was very happy with it. I couldn’t tell a difference and that’s what you want – not being able to tell a difference between backup car and primary, so they did a good job of getting that thing ready. All of our group, you don’t normally get backup cars ready. This is not really a thing anymore. I think you have that mindset coming down here that you can – that you might need to use a backup car – and they did a good job of working super hard Thursday night. NASCAR let them in a few hours early yesterday morning, which really helped those guys out of getting ready before practice, so I think our piece is just as good as it was Thursday night and hopefully it shows come Sunday again.”

DOES THE FUEL MILEAGE CHANGE AT ALL ON A GREEN TRACK? IS IT HARDER TO CALCULATE? “No, I don’t think so. I think everyone on our group really understands your fuel mileage number and what you do before your stop. It’s changed. It’s weird. It’s a lot of saving before your stop, especially if you get a green flag. Really, it helps you on a green flag stop, just taking less gas, burning less when you’re out there running, just trying to speed up the stop, especially if you’re just doing fuel only. And it feels like everybody has got that game down now. I feel like last year even the end of ‘22, I feel like our group was pretty good at being early with that, of understanding, ‘Hey, if we just save a bunch of gas,’ and I’ve just had that mindset it’s like, ‘Hey, I’m gonna save gas and if I enter pit road in row 10 or 12, I’m gonna make up a second on the stop and I’m probably gonna jump these guys.’ So, it’s like who can save the most gas efficiently. You even see leaders saving now and it kind of slows the pace down. You’ll see the outside lane, the top lane, the third lane kind of come for a while. Someone decides not to save gas for a while and get their track position, so it’s an odd cat-and-mouse game right now who wants to be aggressive on fuel saving, so everyone has that mindset now. I don’t think it changes much on a green track or not.”

ARE YOU FEELING OK AND HOW LONG DOES IT STAY WITH YOU PHYSICALLY? “I’m sore, that’s for sure. I’m probably more sore today than yesterday. I feel like the second day is always the day of more soreness – the neck area, all down the back, just muscles getting strained. That’s kind of the biggest thing. Everything else felt fine, just all of your muscles down your shoulders and stuff gets pulled in weird areas that you’re not used to, so that’s the most sore today. I’ve been trying to be ginger with it. Everything else I felt fine with mentally and stuff like that, so that was good. But, yeah, I’ll be fine to go hopefully if we were to run tomorrow I’d be good to go then. If I get another buffer day, if we run Monday, I’ll be even better. Just a little sore, but that stuff will pass.”

IS IT SIMILAR TO WHAT YOU FELT IN AUGUST? “I would say more of my body felt sore in August for longer, and I was able to be home in August to try and get worked on by people at home. Here, I haven’t been able to get worked on as much as I did last year just with the people not being here. They went home after the Duels. We have a great physical therapist in our camp that she is amazing, so she’ll be able to help me out tomorrow a little bit if I’m still feeling sore. It wasn’t as bad as last year’s, but still pretty brutal. I was happy with how the car crushed. I haven’t seen a right-front in the fire wall before, so I think everything that they’ve done NASCAR-wise to get these things to crush more is good, and there’s some stuff that I’ve talked to them about to try to get better and better, but I think she’ll help me out tomorrow if I still need it.”

THE PUSHING GAME HAS CHANGED THROUGH THE YEARS, SO WHAT IS APPROPRIATE NOW? “Pushing is a huge part of the speedways now. You see it more than ever. You see more pushing now. The only time you pushed more was the tandem racing, but that was solid connection being on somebody and now the bumpers kind of being round you kind of see the cars get out of control more. But, I think you have to push hard and I fully understand that. I’ve pushed people hard, but I try to take care of people. As the pusher, you are responsible for the guy in front of you. You have just as much responsibility to make sure that you don’t shove the guy in front of you through somebody and you have to understand where you have to let him go. If you are the third car in line, you have to let the second place car in line go. You can’t just shove him through the guy leading the top lane because then it gets to be bumper cars and that’s when people get turned. It seemed the other night where the 6 shoved the 8 into the 24. He didn’t really let him go early enough to where he was just coming too fast and then you hit him in the tri-oval to where there’s kind of a lateral load and that’s just gonna turn that guy. Pushing is a huge game and I’m fine, you can push the hell out of me, but you’ve just got to be smart where you do it and how you get on somebody, and you have to be knowledgeable of what spots are good to do it and what spots are bad to do it. I’m not upset with hard pushes because that’s what it takes to go forward in this game. You just have to be smart about where you do it and the timing of it and letting someone go. Something me and my spotter talk about a lot is if I’m the third car in line, he’s letting me know all the gaps to the car that is in front of the car in front of me. Like, ‘All right, you have one car length, half car length, OK, he’s there.’ And you have to let him go. You have to get off that guy’s bumper so you just don’t shove him through the lead car, so it’s just where you push. You have to be smart about that. Push hard. That’s fine, but it’s like last year in August the 20 shoving the 54 through the corner and kind of moving on his bumper, you just can’t do that and then the tri-oval thing, he just shoved the 8 so hard into the 24 that the 24 had no chance. You have zero shot of saving your car if you’re running 10 miles an hour faster than the leader and you run through his bumper. You just can’t save that, so it’s just smart about where you do it and how hard you get on somebody and when you know you have to let that person go. You want to develop runs and you’re trying to go forward, but sometimes timing gets off and you have to be like, ‘OK, that didn’t time out good. Let’s re-rack and let’s try it again the next lap. Maybe we can time this out better.’ If you get on somebody before you get in the tri-oval, you can push him all through the tri-oval, but if you kind of hit him right at the start-finish line like that, it just gets them all out of shape.”

ARE THOSE THE TWO HARDEST HITS YOU’VE HAD OR WAS NASHVILLE HARDER? “I feel like the Nashville hit was by far the hardest hit I’ve ever taken. I did not have a mouthpiece in for that. I had one in for the other two. The mouthpiece data has been really good for us to see because you have the black box data from the car, but that’s just showing the car g-load and impact. The important one is what does the driver feel and take? It’s a huge part of the equation and that’s how you separate, ‘OK, the car took this impact. The driver takes this impact.’ So, I didn’t have a mouthpiece in in Nashville. I’ve been wearing it every week since then just to make sure because you never know when it can happen and it’s good to have that data. Wake Forest has done a good job of really working hard at that and those folks are great, so I don’t know what Nashville would have been. It felt way worse and I look at the mental side of it. Mentally, I was way more messed up after Nashville than I was at these two hits at this racetrack, but Nashville was by far the hardest one. The best data I have to go off of is these two.”

DO YOU CHANGE ANYTHING AFTER GETTING THE INFORMATION FROM THE MOUTHPIECE? “No. Internally, like in the car, I feel like we’ve done the best job that we possibly can on making sure I’m as safe as I can. I had zero problem with how I reacted in the car, like how my body was. We do a good job of always trying to find ways to be better and protect us and Penske has done a good job of always making that a number one priority – the driver safety side. So, everything from this hit last year here to this one the other night we tweaked some stuff after Nashville of stuff that I was like, ‘Hey, I think we can do this a little better,’ like belts and HANS strap length. I run pretty short HANS straps just because I don’t want my head to move forward a lot, but I think everything worked the way it should, the best that it can. You’re only gonna do so much. There’s only so much you can do, but that’s all you can do is make sure everything is the best it can be.”

DO YOU FEEL THESE WRECKS ARE STARTING TO TAKE TOLL OR DO YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE THAT YOU’RE WORN OUT AND YOU HAVE THE RESOURCES TO HELP YOU FEEL BETTER? “It’s more than I’d like to take, but that’s part of our sport. You understand that you do this for a reason and you understand the risks of it and it’s just what we do. I don’t ever think about the bad side of this. If a driver or if you’re ever worried about strapping in the car of like, ‘I hope I don’t take a big hit again,’ that’s just not a mentality of anybody. All you try to do is find out how to win the race and you understand when you sign up, I understood when I signed up for this thing watching dad race that there’s dangers of it and things are gonna happen. I don’t really see that it’s taken a toll on me personally. Yeah, it stinks sitting around being sore and having a hard time moving around the next morning, but you just get over it and take Advil and figure it out. That’s all you can do, but that’s why we love it and why we do it. You never think of the negative side of it. You just try to figure out when those things do happen, ‘Hey, did we do all we can to make sure I was as safe as possible?’ And if the answer is yes, awesome. We checked that box. We did a great job and if not, you try to work on things to get it better and that’s all you can do. There’s only so much you can do.”

WHAT IS THE REST OF SATURDAY LIKE NOW FOR YOU? “My schedule doesn’t really change. Your schedule is pretty set as far as things you have to do off the track a week ahead. I don’t really think about it. Gianna and I will go to dinner tonight and just rest up and get ready for tomorrow and all the stuff you have to do pre-race and figure out. We’ve already pretty much made our car, our car is locked in. They’re doing final tech right now. Our changes are locked in. Jonathan and I figured out what we were gonna do after practice yesterday. ‘Hey, this is how we’re gonna have the car,’ and then it just sits. It just waits. And we already understand the strategy of the race. We talk about that weeks in advance and kind of have an idea of what we’re gonna do. Some things might change on the fly like when you pit and who you pit with, just depending on situation stuff, but everyone knows. I don’t wake up anymore race day morning of the 500 and like overwhelmed anymore. You understand it’s a big race and what it means, so you mentally prepare yourself for it for the whole off-season, for the whole winter and know how big it is and you just wait to get going. The worst part is the sitting around side of it, sitting around to do this huge race and this big event. You just want to get going. You want to do what you’re most comfortable with and what people are most comfortable with is driving and racing and that’s all I look forward to is just getting it going and then seeing how it all plays out and develops. The waiting around and twiddling your thumbs stinks, but that’s part of our sport sometimes and you get pretty good at it.”

DOES THE FRUSTRATION JUST ACCUMULATE AND KEEP BUILDING AS THESE WRECKS HAPPEN? “No, I try to forget things pretty quickly and get over them. I was frustrated Thursday night, but Friday morning I woke up and I was over the frustration part of it. You get over these things pretty quick, so it’s just when those things happen you get frustrated about it. Like, ‘Gosh, I can’t believe I got right-reared for the third time at this place in a row.’ That’s the frustrating part about it and it’s like, ‘When is this gonna end?’ It’s like the tale of two racetrack for me. Talladega, for some reason, we have really good fortune and don’t really get caught up in many incidents and run up towards the front, and here at this place the last few times I’ve been here I just can’t do no right and just feel like I get caught up in a product of someone else’s mess and that’s just a product of it. I’ve put in my head a while ago going to these speedways of, ‘Hey, things can happen and it’s out of my control, so I’m not really gonna let it get to me too much.’ Yeah, I’ll be frustrated with it for a few hours, but I wake up the next day and I’m over it and just try to figure out the next deal and that was figuring out how to get our backup car to where it needs to be and strategizing for the race. It’s just frustrating when those things happen, but I try to get over things very, very quickly.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 6 Castrol Edge Ford Mustang Dark Horse – IS THERE ANY OTHER THING THAT WE DON’T RECOGNIZE WHAT DIFFERENTIATES DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA? “It’s funny how just some small things about a track can completely change the racing. I think probably the biggest difference to me is that Daytona is just narrower. I think the Next Gen cars generally handle pretty well both here and Talladega, but the difference in the width of the tracks it changes the techniques that work or don’t work. That plays out with significant impact on the results to where it’s really hard to carry over things from one track to the other, so I think probably the biggest thing that stands out to me at Daytona is that because the track is narrower you just see more aggressive blocking because the thought is I can contain somebody when there’s only three lanes, where Talladega for a good part of the track there are four or five lanes. I think you just see different kinds of blocks here – generally more aggressive for sure because, like I said you feel like you can cover three lanes, where you know you can’t cover four or five.”

DOES FUEL MILEAGE CHANGE AT ALL HERE ON A GREEN TRACK? “I don’t think it makes a big difference. The racing just always evolves and now it’s evolved into just that, where the last few Daytona and Talladega races have been really heavy fuel mileage based racing, and those are some of the ebbs and flows of the sport. I don’t necessarily know it you’ll see that this time. Obviously, once everybody gets their pit stop done, it’s not fuel mileage racing, so generally I think you see that up until your pit stop in each one of the stages there’s a lot of people focused on that, but after that not so much. The last 10-20 laps of the three stages I think you really see the intensity pick up. I don’t think that’ll be any different.”

ARE THERE OTHER THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP PREVENT SOME OF THESE WRECKS OUTSIDE OF COMMUNICATION BETWEEN THE DRIVER AND SPOTTER? “Not necessarily. There’s only so much that you can do. I mean, things happen so fast. We do rely very heavily on spotters, but there’s a lag there that’s always gonna exist from the moment something happens to the moment a spotter sees it to the moment he can communicate it and the moment the driver can understand it. There’s a significant lag that happens there and you try to do what you can to condense those things, but at the end of the day these are cars moving at 200 miles an hour and they cover a lot of ground really fast, so as you go through that lag it’s hard to always manage all the different situations. I can tell you that when I rewatch a race on TV how much different it looks than it does in the car with the limited visibility that you have in the car moves that seem so obvious watching from TV in the car you don’t ever even see them, or if you do, you see them a half-a-second or a second later when it’s too late. I find myself watching race film and playing Monday morning quarterback like, ‘You should have made this move or this move,’ when I evaluate myself, but it’s just way different in the car.”

HOW DO YOU AS A DRIVER BALANCE WHEN TO GO AND WHEN NOT TO GO, ESPECIALLY IN THE TRI-OVAL? “There are a lot of factors. Certainly, the track. How the tires are and where you’re at in a run. The handling of the car in front of you, and then you only have some certainty you have to that. When you’re driving the car you don’t know how somebody else’s car is driving. I thought it was interesting. This past time we were at Daytona in August one of the keys to us winning the race and finishing 1-2 with RFK cars is Chris Buescher and I pushed all the way through the tri-oval here with I think one lap to go on the white flag lap and cleared the bottom lane from the second lane to win the race. His car was driving pretty good. My car was driving pretty good. And then I went to Talladega a month or two later and I was pushing another car and Talladega should be easier to push through the tri-oval than Daytona and the second I started pushing him he spun out and got in a big wreck. Unfortunately, I got in it too. So you’re like, ‘How does that make any sense?’ This track should be easier. The tires are better and one car spun out and the other car didn’t, but there’s now way I can know how everybody’s car drives and what level of control they’re gonna be able to have over it. You try to build up experience and this own kind of database to make decisions, but then there are just unknowns that I can only really drive my car and know what it’s doing and maybe my teammate’s because I’ve talked to them, but I can’t know what everybody in the field has to work with and I know the alternative of not pushing is to run in the back, and to not have a shot to win, so those are difficult decisions to make in real time, but that’s what makes it special when you have success at these tracks is you’ve made all the right decisions generally more often than not.”

YOU WERE BEHIND THE 8 WHEN THE ACCIDENT HAPPENED IN THE DUEL. WHAT WAS YOUR VIEW ON HOW THAT UNFOLDED? “Yeah, something happened with the 24 and the 12 car and it really spit the 24 car out, kind of in front of the freight train that was myself and the 8 car. By the time we could all recognize what was happening it was too late.”

HOW THANKFUL AFTERWARD WERE YOU THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO GO TO A BACKUP? “Yes and no. There’s the team owner side it’s like, ‘Oh, we were able to put a fender and a nose on this thing, and some duct work and a bumper. That’s better than bringing out another car.’ But then there’s the other side, from the driver’s side and mechanic side that you look at it and it doesn’t make a difference. The cars are identically prepared. I really wasn’t super concerned about it.”

YOU’VE BEEN OPEN ABOUT HOW MUCH THIS IS A FOCUS OF WINNING THIS RACE. AS YOU GET CLOSER TO THIS EVENT WHAT IS THE FEELING? “Honestly, I’m more concerned that we’re not gonna get to run it tomorrow. I just hate that for everybody that works hard and spends a lot of money to come here, the teams included, but mostly our fans and you guys. We want to be able to go. We’re as hungry to go as everybody else is and it’s frustrating to not have the weather on your side, but outside of that, I don’t know. I don’t feel like I have a ton of anxiety over it. I feel really well prepared. I know my car drives great and we’ll have the speed to go with that. I just want to make sure I do my part to execute what I can execute. I’m kind of somewhat reserved to the fact that the end of the race kind of is what it is and there’s gonna be 15 maybe 20 cars that will have a shot of winning in the last two dozen laps or so, and you just hope you’re around to be one of those cars and you hope that when the moment comes, if you are one of those cars that has a shot, that you do everything you can right and then the rest is kind of out of your control. I guess there’s some kind of peace in that, but outside of that, I just want to go lead a bunch of laps. The last few races here we’ve led the most laps and I always feel good about that, leading the most laps or leading a lot of laps or being up front the whole race because if the lottery ticket at the end doesn’t go your way at least you have something to hang your hat on, so I would say that’s probably where my focus is at is leading a bundle of laps early, leading through the middle of the race, hopefully getting a lot stage points and maybe even a stage win, and then just kind of like, ‘Hey, whatever happens at the end we’re just gonna be in the right position’ and try not to do anything to mess that up execution-wise and we’ll see how the cards fall.”

IN YOUR MIND BECAUSE SO MUCH IS OUT OF A DRIVER’S CONTROL HERE, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO WIN THIS RACE OR HOW DO YOU SEE THE VALUE OF WHAT TYPE OF DRIVER WINS THIS RACE? “It’ll always be a crown jewel, so you can never take that away from Daytona. But, if I was putting on my team scouting hat and I was thinking about that this morning after watching the Truck and ARCA races, this wouldn’t be the place where I would scout a driver to pick. If I was like, ‘Let’s go watch the ARCA, Truck, Xfinity races and we’re gonna pick the next NASCAR Cup Series phenomenon,’ I’m not like, ‘Well, let’s look who won Daytona last night. That’s the guy I’m gonna pick.’ The reality is that’s not what you’re gonna do. I think in some ways that’s telling. You’re gonna look for the guy that made good moves and was calm in situations of duress. You’re gonna look for the guy that didn’t speed down pit road or make a dumb mistake. That stuff carries over, the execution stuff, but probably not so much the pure race winner, where I think you look at most other races, fast forward a couple weeks to Vegas or Phoenix and you’re gonna look at the guy who win the race like that’s probably a guy I would need to scout a little more. That’s kind of the same thing carries over to the Cup Series. You’re gonna look for the guy, like I went through a bunch of review yesterday with the team and Joey Logano in the last three green flag pit cycles here has been a second faster than everyone else. You say, ‘Oh, that’s really good. That’s him. That’s not circumstance. That’s not happenstance or any of those things.’ That’s really him. That’s impressive. If I was scouting, that’s what I’d look at and say, ‘He’s one of the threats to win the Daytona 500 because he can execute a green flag cycle better than anyone else in the garage area right now,’ and there’s probably gonna be a green flag cycle. Those are the things I would look at and say that’s the talent, that’s the thing or the special sauce that makes a driver really good – not necessarily the winner, but that said you still want to win it. It’s still the Daytona 500 and still the biggest race of the year with respect to purse and fanfare and so forth. There’s still a really big trophy and a ring and you can never take that away from this race.”

DAVID RAGAN GOT IN THE 17 YESTERDAY. DID HE BRING ANY INSIGHT TO THAT TEAM THEY MAY NOT HAVE ALREADY HAD AND CAN YOU SPEAK TO WHY RAGAN WAS YOUR CHOICE TO DRIVE THE 60 CAR? “I’ll start with the end question about bringing in David. David ran this race in 2022 and I think he ended up in the top 10 somewhere. I can’t remember his exact finishing position, but he just ran a really smart race. He didn’t get caught up in the chaos. It’s kind of like what I was saying a minute ago. He had good patience and the moment wasn’t too big for him, and I have a lot of trust and respect for him accordingly. He’s been driving the Ford wheelforce test vehicle and doing a lot of simulator work for us at Ford, so we felt really confident in his skills and ability and feel like he was the number one free agent to bring in for this race. That’s kind of where the decision came from. He’s someone that we also knew could represent our partners really well. It was really a no-brainer move when we looked at the free agent list and he was clearly at the top and there wasn’t really anyone close to him, so we felt lucky to be able to bring him in. Outside of that and him driving the 17 car, it’s always good just to get another opinion even if that opinion is the same opinion and from everything I’ve heard he has the same opinion of his car that Chris had.”

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