Transcripts: Ryan Blaney – Talladega Superspeedway

THE MODERATOR: We’re going to continue with our post-race media availability here now with our race winner of today’s YellaWood 500 at Talladega is Ryan Blaney. Thank you so much for joining us. A big congratulations on that win. To kick us off, just take us through those final laps from your vantage point in the car.

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I don’t know, we did a good job of positioning ourselves up towards the front there. After we made a mistake at stage two and lost track position, we did a really good job and had a good pit stop and was able to start in the front two rows.

You know, the last restart, I guess, the 36 did a great job. Riley did a really good job of pushing me kind of where I needed it, especially when we were leading the top lane. He hasn’t run too many Cup races at all, and I think the only other speedway he has run is maybe Daytona a month ago. So he did a really good job of kind of understanding where to get on me and carry momentum. So appreciate him for that. He did a good job.

Yeah, I think the biggest thing was getting clear to the bottom down the back stretch in front of the 24 to get alongside the 4. That made it to where, okay, now it’s a drag race between he and I.

The biggest job too was making sure the 24 didn’t get clear, so I kind of had to drag brake to make sure the 4 stayed outside the 24 to make sure one of us won and made sure the 24 couldn’t jump outside of me and made sure I had his help.

So, yeah, just a neat day, fun day. It’s always fun to win these things, and you have to appreciate them because they’re so hard to do. We hung in there all day, and fun to drag race Kevin there at the end. I hate it had to be us to beat him at his final speedway race, but it was definitely fun to race with someone like that, especially coming down to the end where it gets pretty wild.

THE MODERATOR: We’re going to go to questions.

Q. Ryan, I’m sure you were told you don’t have to worry about the Roval.

RYAN BLANEY: Psyched, yeah.

Q. What is it with you and Talladega and your wins here being 7,000th, 7,000th, 12,000th. Usually when people win, they’re big wins. For you it’s kind of the opposite where it’s very narrow wins.

RYAN BLANEY: I don’t know. It’s not like I planned it. It’s just one of those things. Yeah, I don’t know.

We do a good job here at these plate tracks and of trying to position ourselves towards the front of these things to where you have a shot at it at the end, and that’s really all you can ask for.

Sometimes they go your way; sometime they don’t. Sometimes you lose them by five feet, and sometimes you win them by three or four feet. You know, we lost the 500 one year by a handful of feet, and we happened to win a couple of these things by a combined amount of maybe eight feet.

So it’s just one of those things that’s tough, and you just have to try to put yourself in the best spot, and whether it happens for you or not, you kind of accept it.

Q. Then you were saying a little bit earlier about you kind of drag racing with Harvick, but go back about maybe three, four laps to go. You and Harvick were working really well in that second lane. Were you surprised that he dropped down after you guys had been working together for the past dozen laps?

RYAN BLANEY: No. I mean, he was trying to figure out what lane was going to be the best and what had more help. So I think he was just kind of playing the lane game trying to figure out which one was going to have the best run and which one was going to be tighter together.

They were both pretty even I think, so it was kind of his choice, right, of what you think is coming and which one you don’t think is going to be in there. He went up and blocked the top down the back coming to the checkered, and that opened the bottom up for me.

So it’s one of those weird things. You are looking in your mirror. Your spotter is talking, and you are trying to figure out which lane has more energy, right? So you’re kind of hopping around trying to figure out what lane is going to help you out more.

I wasn’t really surprised. That lane kind of surged forward, and he went down to try to block it. It didn’t really surprise me. He was just going with the right lane at the time, and judgment call really at that point.

Q. That move on the back stretch where you darted from the outside to the inside and kind of split William and Kevin, did you know you were clear, or was it just, I’m going here, and I have a hole, and I have to go?

RYAN BLANEY: I knew it was going to be close. I wasn’t sure how clear I was. I kind of made my move before I think Josh said I was clear. So I knew it was going to be tight, but that was the only chance to make that move.

If I didn’t make it then, I feel like that bottom lane would have got there to my left rear, and now I’m not leading a lane. So just kind of halfway knowing I’m clear and just kind of committing to it.

Q. I know this isn’t going to change how you did things over the last couple of laps, but as you’re racing Harvick, in your mind are you at all like this is his last time here, this could be his last shot at a victory? Are any of those things going through your mind at all?

RYAN BLANEY: No, no. He is another competitor at that point. I mean, that’s really the only thing you’re thinking about. So, yeah, another race. It was super fun to race with him, drag it out to the end down the front stretch with him.

I apologized to some fans who had his shirt on after the race I saw on victory lane. Sorry I beat your guy. Just another competitor at that point.

Q. Obviously you’re through to the Round of 8. That’s the practical part of it, but from the mental side of that how much easier does it make this week for you?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, definitely makes it a lot easier for sure. Honestly, I thought we did a good job after Texas. I made a mistake, sped, put us in the back, got us in a wreck. Now we’re below the cut line.

Our group did a really good job of just staying calm, understanding we have two more races left. Let’s go try to do our job, and whatever happens, happens.

So we did a good job of kind of maintaining our mental stability after Texas, but yeah, I mean, it’s just so much pressure off whenever you can win in one of these races and one of the rounds. Especially the first or second. It just relieves you.

I talked to William today at driver intros, and he is, like, This is the most fun speedway race I’m ever going to have because I don’t have to stress about it. You kind of just feel free.

It does take some pressure off. I mean, you go try to win the race next week for sure, but maybe you can be a little bit more aggressive on stages or back. Maybe you flip to stages and try to go win the race instead of having to go get points in the stages.

I feel like a lot of guys are going to have to do that if they’re on that agenda of being close to the cut line, so it just kind of changes the way you approach it a little bit too. Yeah, very relieving. That’s for sure.

Q. I asked Jonathan this. I’m curious your take. You have this really weird stat. You only have five top-5 finishes all year, but two wins. What do you make of that?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I didn’t know that stat.

Q. You’re welcome.

RYAN BLANEY: Thank you. I don’t know whether to like that or dislike it.

Q. It’s weird, right?

RYAN BLANEY: It’s weird. I feel like it’s been up and down. I feel like we were really solid until winning in Charlotte and then I would say up until Sonoma, and then we kind of lost our way a little bit after the break and just struggled to kind of find speed and put together races and making mistakes, whether it’s my mistakes or pit road.

I feel like we’ve done a good job as the playoffs have started kind of managing these races like we need to and getting back on track.

Yeah, it’s kind of weird. I feel like we had a lot more top-5s last year and contended for more wins probably, but didn’t execute very good. I feel like this year we’ve executed pretty good, especially to the two-thirds point of this year. That’s something to be super proud of.

It’s definitely shown that we’ve done a good job of believing in each other and just doing our job. So those guys are awesome at that.

Q. First off, congrats on the win, Ryan. You’re now tied with drivers like Davey Allison and Cale Yarborough for the number of wins at Talladega. Can you speak on what this track means to you and how much it has shaped your racing career and love from the fans?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I love this place. I accepted this place early on in my Cup career, as I feel like people have two opinions on speedways: either they love them or they hate them with a passion.

I kind of made the decision I’m going to love these places, and I’m going to accept if something bad happens to me here.

If you get in a wreck that’s not your fault, you’re going to accept it and not stress out about that. Once you kind of put that in your head of you’re just accepting that these things can happen here, now you can focus on trying to run well and win, right? You’re not worried about all this stuff for coming here, disliking the track, like, oh, I can’t stand being here, the speedway races are dumb.

It’s not really the right mindset to have. I just kind of did that early on, and it’s benefited us mindset-wise coming to these places.

It means a lot to win here. I grew up watching Dad race here a long time. I love the area. The fans here are spectacular. Being able to meet a bunch of people has been fun. Getting to know a lot of people from the speedway also has been amazing. Just really fortunate to have good friends and friends here that treat me like family.

Yeah, I think you appreciate these things more because it’s so hard to win at these places. It’s just such an up-in-the-air thing. You never know if it’s going to work out for you or not.

You have to really appreciate whenever you can win here, and it’s really, really fortunate we’ve been lucky enough to win here three times. You know, it’s pretty neat that we’ve — same as Yarborough and Davey, that’s pretty special. That’s pretty cool.

Q. Ryan, you’ve been to the Round of 8 before. The hump has been getting past the Round of 8 to the final four. Aside from saying execution, is there something about that round that you can focus on, you and this team, to get past that roadblock?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I think just learning from mistakes. I feel like I’ve made mistakes. Last year I made two massive mistakes and kept us out of Phoenix. So I think learning from prior experiences is beneficial there. Obviously you need your cars to be fast enough because it gets super tough, and these racetracks are — there’s no superspeedway or no road course. It’s traditional tracks. Then it gets super hard. When everything resets, you have guys that have tons of points. Today helped us out a little bit, but a couple guys have way more playoff points than us. That makes it super tough.

If we can learn from past mistakes and have our cars fast and just not mess up, really. I mean, you have to perform. I can’t believe you took the execution word away from me, but no, I think just believing in each other and continuing to work. I feel like our cars haven’t been quite the speed they needed to be to compete with maybe the 5, or the 11 has been fast, but I think we’re still working. This could be a big shot in the arm for us.

I’m excited to see what we have for them when we unload in Vegas.

Q. Speaking of Vegas and Homestead, you’re going to start with two intermediate tracks. You look at your numbers this year, they might be a little bit deceiving. You have a couple of top-10s, and then you have some finishes outside the top-15. Intermediate speed-wise, how are you feeling about two of those in that round before you even get to Martinsville?

RYAN BLANEY: I obviously feel good about them. We’ve been working super hard to find this intermediate speed. I feel like we’ve gotten better. We ran better at Kansas than we did prior. We had a good run going at Texas. Didn’t qualify good, but got through there and was able to maintain.

I don’t know, it’s kind of hard to tell until you unload. You are always trying to work on stuff, but you have to have confidence that you are going to unload fast and with speed and be able to compete.

Q. If Kevin Harvick hadn’t lost Riley Herbst, his pusher, at the end, do you think Harvick is able to — do you think you’re still able to hold off Harvick at the end there?

RYAN BLANEY: I don’t know. I haven’t really seen a replay of how much help the 36 got pulled off of him? Did someone go three-wide or something to the top of the 36?

Q. I couldn’t tell you. The 36 spun.

RYAN BLANEY: Oh, did it? I didn’t know. Yeah, I don’t know how that kind of developed. All I knew is that the 24 was pretty close to me. I saw the 36 for a second was maybe a car length off the 4. When the 24 got to me, I felt fairly confident that I could kind of nose ahead just because he was pretty tight on my bumper. But yeah, you never know how those things work out.

I tried to make sure the 24 didn’t get clear in three and four; and then once I knew he wasn’t clear, and the 4 was able to box him in, you hope you get a good push to maintain your run and make it.

Q. A lot of times in wins you’re leading for the last ten laps, sometimes leading for the majority of the end. In this case, when was that moment where you kind of realized that you had won?

RYAN BLANEY: It took a few seconds. I wasn’t really 100% sure if we beat Harvick or not. It was kind of a weird race here. The couple other ones I’ve won here we led a lot. We led a lot of laps and controlled the race.

This one we didn’t really lead much. I mean, single-digit laps I think we led. Just kind of a different way. We still were up there all day. We just never really controlled the lead. It was hard to control the lead, honestly, today, whoever you were.

Yeah, just it takes you a few seconds when they’re that close. You don’t really know. Josh confirmed it pretty quick, so that was nice.

Q. What was going through your mind as you realized that you had won? And obviously usually you kind of know, you’re kind of unsure, you know it’s a close one. And then in the end you actually realize that you had won the race and you kind of realized after. What was that like?

RYAN BLANEY: I just appreciate it. You understand you did a good job and you put in 500 miles of really hard work to try to get to this spot. It means a lot whenever it comes to fruition.

Just super cool. I was debating whether to do a burnout or not. I usually don’t do them, but I was really, really excited, so I did one. That was a lot of fun.

No, it’s a special feeling. Especially, like I said earlier, when you can win here, it’s really hard to do, and you have to appreciate those moments.

Q. Why don’t you do burnouts?

RYAN BLANEY: Oh, you don’t know? Dale Inman pulled me swap aside one day, and he said, Hey, you don’t see the winner of the Kentucky Derby get off his horse and start beating the shit out of it.

So that’s why I don’t do burnouts. I didn’t do a burnout after one race, and he was like, I like how you don’t do burnouts, and then he told me that story. He might be mad at me for doing one and breaking our rule, but yeah, Inman quote, yeah.

Q. Thank you for saying no to equine violence, if I said that correctly. Fancy word. Joey Logano was on Sirius this past week, and he was talking about how people at Penske were frustrated and pissed off that the season hasn’t gone the way the organization would have hoped for. You were the last Penske driver in the playoffs. Now you’re on to the Round of 8. You’ve got a second victory for the team. As you enter the second half of the playoffs in these last five races, do you feel like this can be a galvanizing force for Penske as an organization that might be able to propel you to a chance to race for a championship and almost change the narrative from the energy around the team and how this year has been?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I mean, I definitely think it’s probably not been the year we wanted at our group, right? You go from winning the championship with the 22 guys, and then we’ve struggled a little bit this year overall for speed and finishes and stuff like that.

Joey getting knocked out in the first round was definitely a gut punch. Yeah, it’s easy to get down on that stuff, but it’s easy to get fired up about things too.

Our group is always working towards getting better. I don’t think they — they don’t dwell on being behind a little bit for a long time. They just go to work, right, and they try to figure out how to be better.

I think a shot in the arm like this, it’s like, let’s go. We’re in the Round of 8. We’re still in this thing. We have one in it. Let’s keep working.

That’s their mindset no matter if we would have won today or not. You’re always trying to get — our people are always into it. Maybe they’re frustrated at times that you are not running good, but they’re always — they don’t give up. They always just try to be better and just work to solve the problem.

I mean, you’re going to have downtimes in racing. You’re going to kind of be up top and then struggle for speed, and then it’s just a big circle of life really when it comes to that stuff. I think this is definitely a good motivator, that’s for sure, to fire everybody up.

Q. Usually the last super speedway race of the season people try and project performance here to performance in next year’s Daytona 500. So considering not only your victory, but the fact that Austin got a top-10, Joey was very competitive, ran at the front, does that give you extra reason to be confident that things are going in the right direction and that Penske will be back at the level they’ve been?

RYAN BLANEY: It’s hard to tell. At these places it’s kind of hard to tell where you stack up.

Our cars on speedways have always had really good pace. We’ve always qualified well. Fords are always running good. Roush-Yates does a good job on the engine.

It’s really hard to tell. Daytona, Talladega, how we run there, I only base it on Daytona and Talladega. You can’t really compare it to the other stuff, but just the speedways.

Proud of the effort of the work we’ve done to be fast at these places, but it’s really all you can compare it to.

Q. Today had 70 total lead changes, which is the most in any Cup race since 2011, also here. What exactly is it that made today so competitive even among all the other Next Gen car races at super speedways?

RYAN BLANEY: I think you saw the third lane more today than normal. It’s honestly just a massive fuel mileage race now. Where the stages are, how — you know, the less time you can spend on pit road the better, and you gain your track position.

Literally the first stint of each stage everyone is just saving gas. I mean, I ran 50% throttle damn near the whole first stint of each stage just to save gas so I’m on pit road the less amount of time, take less gas, you jump the cars that are using more gas.

When the leaders of the bottom lane, the middle lane, start doing that, the through lane develops because you have guys that are, like, screw it, I’m not going to save. I’m trying to get to the front.

So I think that’s why you have all these fluctuations. Third lane goes, middle goes, it kind of fades. It depends on who is leading that lane, who is saving fuel or not.

It’s a weird thing as a driver because we got back I think in the second stage. I was almost at the very back of the pack, but I just saved a ton of gas on the bottom, and I came out, like, third in our group because I had to take less gas, and that propelled us towards the front.

So it’s a weird kind of game. It’s different than what it has been, but everyone is kind of catching on to the saving fuel type situation. That’s really what brings the third lane up there a lot.

At the end of the race when everyone is not saving gas and you are pushing hard in the first lane and second lane, the third lane doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s kind of a funky deal.

Yeah, a lot of passes. That was exciting. Hopefully people enjoyed it.

Q. You were kind of talking about Riley Herbst in the early part of your media availability. Kind of talking on that, he almost won Talladega in the Truck Series race a couple of years ago, and he has shown really good speed in the last few times he has been in a Cup car. Kind of talking about looking at the Xfinity Series, he has not done great. Kind of speak on what the difference between a Cup car, truck, Xfinity. I’ve heard it a lot lately. Is it just they feel like the process to Cup is to go to trucks — straight to Cup instead of doing Xfinity. Talk about that opinion.

RYAN BLANEY: It’s different than what it used to be a couple of years ago. Before this car and Cup cars, Xfinity cars, they drive so much different than what they used to. From what I’ve heard, they drive a lot like a truck. Kind of my past experience is they drive a lot like a truck. It’s been a long time since I’ve driven a truck.

But they have more of that feel, whereas you look at a Cup car from 2016, ’17, ’18, Xfinity car was an awesome learning tool because they were pretty similar race cars, and they handled the same.

Yeah, it is a little different. I think like Hocevar has done a good job jumping from trucks to Cup because they’re very similar to each other without kind of doing the Xfinity route because it’s just hard to learn, but experience — race experience is race experience, right? I think running laps in any type of car is good for you, but you can probably compare the trucks to the Cup cars a little but more now.

Riley has done a good job. He did good at Daytona a month ago. Obviously did good today. I was actually excited when he lined up behind me because I thought he was a good pusher, and he showed that he pushed in a lot of good spots today. It wasn’t like hitting you in terrible spots, right? That side was really impressed with, and he definitely was a huge factor in keeping us up there.

But as far as the series process, it’s different from what it used to be, but it’s still good to get laps in whatever you can get laps in, and I think that helps you as a driver. Especially if you are young. Take what you can get. Get laps in something, and just go to these tracks and try to figure out these tracks and how to approach them as much as you can.

Q. Ryan, you’ve been there as Joey for a couple of years where he didn’t have the most playoff points or the best regular season, and he kind of snuck his way, performed when it mattered to get to the championship four and get the championships. Have you learned anything either from watching him be able to do that?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah. I think being teammates with Joey and teammates with Brad for a long time was really awesome for me to kind of see. I admire those guys a lot. Joey — I mean, you said it perfectly, I feel like he is always really good at making a lot out of something out of little. I feel like they do that all the time. He and Paul Wolfe do a great job of that.

Joey is very smart and mentally strong in those situations to where he is always looking towards the future. And that’s something I’ve kind of look at of how he approaches things because there’s times where, man, they’re not very good, and they’ll go pull something out, and they’re just tough and they figure it out. You’re, like, it’s not a coincidence that that happens to them. They think about this stuff, and they’re very mentally strong when it comes to these things and always trying to be better.

So, yeah, I’ve definitely learned from him a lot, so it’s been nice to have him as a teammate. He is one of the best guys out there. That’s for sure. He has won two championships for a reason, and it’s been fun — it’s been nice to learn from him and try to acquire some of those things that I think make him really, really good.

Q. You spoke earlier about when you were talking to Byron in the pre-race and him talking about it’s going to be fun, stress-free. When you ducked down in front of him — I know there’s no safe spaces in Talladega, but did you feel safer knowing he might not get squirrely at the end and try to pass you?

RYAN BLANEY: Not really. I didn’t really think about that. The hole was there, and I was able to get down and lead a lane, and I knew they were tight. I knew he had Hendrick guys right behind him, so they were going to be pushing a lot.

The only thing I was worried about was how hard is he going to push me because it’s probably not a good thing if I win before like the 5. So that was the only thing that went through my head of like I hope he doesn’t lay off me and stuff like that, and he didn’t. He was committed, and I think me laying back to him kind of got our lane moving to where it bunched up, and we just went.

So, yeah, I tried to make the move the best place I thought possible with the most help. Luckily, he was able to give us a good shove there and stay tight, tight enough to me to where I could squeak ahead of Kevin.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much for spending time with us. Congratulations, again.

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