Ryan Blaney Martinsville 1 Media Availability

Ryan Blaney, the driver of the No. 12 Advance Auto Parts Ford Mustang Dark Horse, met with media members before practicing and qualifying at Martinsville Speedway Saturday afternoon. Blaney spoke about his win at the track last fall, the upcoming race weekend, the 6,000th start this weekend for Team Penske, and more.

RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Advance Auto Parts Ford Mustang Dark Horse – YOU WON THE FALL RACE AND HERE, JUST YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT RACING HERE, GETTING THAT WIN, AND THE  SPECIAL CONNECTION YOU HAVE WITH HERE.  “Yeah, it’s always nice to come back here. I’ve said before I grew up not too far from here, in High Point, so I came to this race and watched my dad run it many times and it’s just a lot of kind of roots here from that side as a kid to driving for the Wood Brothers, them being from Stewart just down the road and just always enjoying coming and watching races here. It kind of nagged me as, or got me as a kid interested in this place and I’ve been fortunate enough to race it and very fortunate enough to win one time here so, and I feel like you always look forward to going back to places where you’ve won at. It’s always pretty neat. So yeah, a lot of special memories here.” 

NEXT WEEK WE HAVE TEXAS, JUST YOUR THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS ABOUT RACING AT THE TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY NEXT WEEK. “Texas next week, yeah, I mean, we’ll see how it is. I think Texas has kind of just been a work in progress, I feel like, for the last few years or ever since it got repaved. It’s okay, how can we get it wider? How can we get the racing better there? So that’s something we’ll see if it’s changed over the past year. I’m not sure if it has, but we’ll find out. I enjoy Texas. What makes Texas interesting is the commitment level that the driver has to have going to that place. Your commitment level through three and four is just huge. And that to me is always a pretty fun aspect of that racetrack. Race inside of it, out of it, okay, it’s narrow, whatever, but like, driving that place it has very different corners, you really have to be fully on the throttle and convince yourself that this car is going to stick when you get into turn three, even though you don’t know if it’s going to or not. Hopefully it’s miraculously aged to where we’ve somehow been able to get five lanes there, but we’ll find out next week.”

FOR A LOT OF DRIVERS, SOMETIMES IT TAKES A LITTLE BIT TO GET A RHYTHM AT A CERTAIN RACETRACK, AND IT SEEMS LIKE SPECIFICALLY FOR YOU HERE, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU GOT TO PENSKE, THAT DIDN’T REALLY HAPPEN. YOU IMMEDIATELY WERE FINISHING UP FRONT, RUNNING UP FRONT. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS PLACE SPECIFICALLY THAT FITS YOUR DRIVING STYLE, AND WHAT MADE YOU TAKE A LIKING TO IT SO QUICKLY?  “I definitely took a few years to get used to this place. You know, like you said, it kind of can take some races under your belt to get comfortable at a racetrack. Sometimes it never comes. Sometimes it comes right away. It’s just kind of weird how that happens. But this is just a tricky place. The first couple of times I came here in a truck, I was really bad. The first couple of times in a Cup car it was really bad and then it was like the fall race of 2017 when something just kinda clicked. It was like, okay you have one good race here and then you feel like I kinda understand how to drive the car around this racetrack. I understand the tendencies of this track. I understand what to ask of my car through practice and through the race to be good. Ever since then it’s just been a track that’s just clicked for me and it just kind of fits what I do as a driver and it fits what we do as a team over at Penske. The Penske group has always been really good here. So I think that combination is just really strong and it’s just funny how certain drivers, certain tracks just kind of click. Phoenix is kind of that way for me and the Penske group and it just fits what you do as an organization and it fits the driver’s style. And it was a lot of hard work. It didn’t come naturally. I was very bad here early on, and we had to really figure out how can we change this up? I had two really good guys to look at, Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano). I really studied what they were doing here. What made them super good and was, fortunately, able to apply it and be able to string together some decent runs here.” 

I DON’T KNOW IF YOU FILL OUT A NCAA BRACKET, BUT BIG GAME FOR YOUR CREW CHIEF TONIGHT, JONATHAN. PURDUE’S PLAYING IN THE FINAL FOUR AND HE IS A BOILERMAKER. WHAT ARE HIS NERVES LIKE? IS HE A BIG BASKETBALL GUY? HAS HE TALKED ABOUT THAT WITH YOU AT ALL?  “We have a 12 team ESPN bracket deal. We usually do a fantasy league for football or a college tournament. He has Purdue winning, I have UConn winning. I think I used somebody from ESPN’s bracket. I don’t think I even filled one out. I just hit the auto bracket and I’m leading. It’s like those folks know what they’re talking about. It’s crazy. I think it’s pretty good. We’ll see how today goes. If we’re pretty good today, I might throw a little trash talk his way, see if Purdue is going to get through or not, or maybe through the night. It’s been fun. I mean, the men’s and women’s tournaments have been pretty stellar this year and have been pretty good tournaments here. From the men’s side tonight and then the women’s side. Won’t be able to watch the women’s side tomorrow but I will watch the highlights.”

WE’VE GOT THE NEW SHORT TRACK PACKAGE THIS YEAR. HAS IT CHANGED THE RACING AT ALL FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE AND DO YOU EXPECT ANY BIGGER CHANGES AT THE SHORTEST TRACK YET FOR THE PACKAGE? “Yeah, we tried it a couple of times here and Phoenix. I didn’t really think it made much of a difference. Richmond, it might have made a little bit of a difference, I felt like more than Phoenix. But here, I feel like it’s going to be the place where you’re going to see the smallest amount of change because you’re going slow here. This is the slowest place we’ve gone from Phoenix to Richmond. So I feel like it’s not going to really be much of a change. I hope it is. I mean, I hope it’s like you can run two feet from someone’s bumper and not have any effects. But the realist in me is like, it might not be much of a change, but it could be. I don’t know. But I think it’s a path to where hopefully we continue to go down from the tires to the aero side of the car. Hopefully we continue to fix that. I mean, it’s not an overnight fix. It’s a tough thing to try to figure out. You can wind tunnel and test that stuff, which NASCAR does all the time but until you actually get it on the racetrack and get it running, you don’t really know. We have some aero tests every now and then through the year. But it is hard to kind of relay that stuff. It’s like talking about sim work compared to at the racetrack, and what it does to your setup. So it is hard to kind of flesh those things out. But I think it’s a small step in the right direction. Just got to continue to try to beat down that path.”

THERE’S BEEN A LOT OF TALK ABOUT TIRES. YOU GUYS RAN THE WET TIRE LAST WEEK AND IT SEEMED PRETTY DANG RACY. HOW WAS THAT FEEL AND IS THAT A DIRECTION YOU’D LIKE TO SEE NASCAR GO AS FAR AS THE WAY THAT FELT? “I mean, the conditions were perfect last week for the wet tire. It wasn’t raining. The Air Titans got all the water out of the racetrack, most of the water out of the racetrack, there wasn’t standing water. I was honestly surprised by how much water was coming off the surface when we were standing on pit road watching those things go to work. It’s pretty wild. I think it was perfect conditions. That tire has a pretty good amount of grip with it still being, you know, you can hurt it pretty bad. The one thing that I feel like they have to try to figure out with that tire now that we are doing ovals on it in the right circumstances that tire doesn’t stagger. It’s just a road course tire. So I feel like you somehow got to get stagger in it. Like if you plan on doing these ovals, you have to somehow try to have a set of those that are like road course rain tires that have no stagger. And then you have to build a set that has a little bit of stagger in it just to kind of make the racing a little bit better.Because there’s only so many changes we can do on pit road before the race. Like last week, we just adjusted air pressure. I know some other teams did some more stuff, but stagger side is huge. I mean when you’re running like zero stagger, we just don’t ever do that so it’s a big change. The two races we’ve run those it’s been good. There’s obviously circumstances to where you’re not going to be able to run it where the tracks are wet like if it’s moderately raining. You can’t can’t do it. You just have to be smart about it I think NASCAR was smart about it. I think a couple tweaks with that thing and I think it is good. So they’re pretty soft, they have to be, and they just tear up pretty quick. But I think the two times we’ve run them, I think there’s some potential of some thoughts that we can keep down that path and just have an option there.”

HERE AT MARTINSVILLE, PEOPLE SAY HOW VALUABLE PIT STALL NUMBER ONE IS AND HOW MANY POSITIONS YOU CAN POTENTIALLY GAIN BY PITTING THERE, SO IS IT A COINCIDENCE, OR ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT NO ONE’S WON FROM PIT STALL ONE HERE SINCE 2013? “No one has? I didn’t know that. I think the number one pit stall wherever you go is important. Some more than others, but it’s still important. It’s still the best stall out there. It shows you how much I know about the stall and the number one qualifier, like winning the race. I don’t think I’ve ever won a pole here, so I’m not sure how much that’s benefited us. We had the first stall last year in the fall, and I thought it was fantastic. It was really good for us. Kind of when you pull off to go into your stall you just kind of gain spots on guys and gain like feet, so we’ve always kind of come with the mentality of either stall one, the first one or anything on the straightaway. Like stall four, some guys take, I don’t like that because you’re coming around that big bend, and it’s hard for your guys to see you and time their jump off the wall. Obviously the goal is the pole, just because it makes it easier on you pitting and don’t have to really worry about your lights as much as others or cars coming out and kind of blending with you. So that’s the goal. I’d like to change that stat if we could win the pole today, but we’ll see.”

CURIOUS WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT ROGER’S 6,000TH START GIVEN HIS MAGNITUDE AND CONTRIBUTION TO MOTORSPORTS. “It’s unbelievable. It shows you how dedicated he’s been for decades and decades and not just NASCAR. IndyCar, SportsCar, a little bit of F1. It just shows what a titan of motorsports in general that he is. It’s awesome to race for a person like that. Add to his team’s history, continue to grow those starts and wins and championships for someone like that. That’s all we can do for him. Try to be successful on the racetrack because he’s given us so much. I’m happy that people are noticing it. 6,000 starts is a big deal. It just shows his dedication to the sport of racing, of motor racing, and how much he loves it. He loves it just as much now as he did on day one, I’m sure. We see it every single week. I hear it in his voice when he calls me through the week. It’s amazing how locked in he is. He wants to win just as badly as he ever has. We are busting our tails to try to make that happen for him.”

YOU MENTIONED EARLIER BRAD AND JOEY AND THE EFFECT THAT THEY HAD ON IMPROVING YOUR PERFORMANCE HERE. WHEN YOU GO TO A PLACE LIKE TALLADEGA, THERE WAS PROBABLY ABOUT A DECADE WHERE KIND OF ROLL THE DICE, IT WAS GOING TO BE THE 12, THE 2 OR THE 22 IN VICTORY LANE. WHAT WAS IT THAT THEY KIND OF GAVE YOU TO, WHAT WAS THE SECRET SAUCE THAT THEY TURNED YOU ON TO SO YOU RAN SO WELL THERE? “I was lucky when I came in, like every driver who comes in as a rookie, they have really good veteran teammates around them, right? So it’s just like, how much do you soak up of their talents that you can apply to yourself and hopefully make you a better driver and just hope that you’re like transitioned into becoming what you want to become is fast, right? That’s what you want to be. I tried to learn from those guys as much as I could, like here, Talladega, Daytona, those guys were just really spectacular at those places. I looked at all their stuff everywhere, but those places, they really stood out. I think I learned more at the Speedways from those guys, just being around them and watching them and kind of being in the same pack as those guys and kind of just seeing the moves they made, because when I came in, my first couple of years, I’m just a role player. Brad makes a move, Joey makes a move, I’m going with you, I’m doing it. I got your back, bud, because I have zero credibility yet. I would just see this stuff happen in front of me and how they would play around with everything and see everything in a bigger perspective. In a different way.You just try to learn that stuff and it’s how you apply it. It’s around you, but can you grasp it and apply it to yourself? It’s a whole other deal. So I was lucky to have two really good racers that I was able to learn a bunch from, and I’m still learning from. I mean, I’m still learning from Joey every week and Austin every week, and just try to use all that stuff.” 

IS THERE A YOUNG DRIVER OR TWO BELOW CUP THAT REALLY JUMPS OUT TO YOU?  “Truck guys that I think really show a lot of potential, like Christian Ekkes is really good. This year he’s done a really, really good job. I think Raja has a ton of potential. He’s still young into his NASCAR career, but I think he’s really, sky’s the limit for him. Nick Sanchez, I think he’s a really talented racer. There’s a lot of talented people. I mean, Xfinity Series, I see Jesse Love, I think he’s really good. Sammy Smith, I think he’s super good. There were a couple guys who came in this year to full time, Zane Smith and Hocevar, I think they’re really fast. It’s weird at my age now, I’m like looking at those kids, because I remember when I was 18, 19, and I hoped guys were looking at me, and still just trying to do my deal. There’s a lot of talent right now that’s coming up, and I see it. I watch all that stuff every week and watch those guys race, and you can kind of tell, right? You can tell who gets it, and who is a really good racer, and is smart, and who’s fast. You know, everyone’s fast, right? But it’s how your race craft stands out to me is how good is your race ability and how do you run around guys and race them like that’s that’s a whole other level that I look at. There are tons of other guys I didn’t say that I think are really good but those guys kind of jump out at me.”

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