Ford Performance – Ryan Blaney Martinsville Playoff Media Availability

Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 12 Discount Tire Ford Mustang for Team Penske, goes into this weekend’s elimination race at Martinsville Speedway in the final Championship 4 transfer spot, 10 points above the cut line. Blaney spoke with members of the media earlier today about his situation.


RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Discount Tire Ford Mustang — GIVEN THE SEASON PENSKE HAS HAD, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE POSITION YOU ARE IN? “I would say incredibly proud of our whole group, and I’m not just talking about our 12 group. I’m talking about all of Team Penske for digging down and finding what we need to find midway through the season, two-thirds part of the season, to get us where we’re at. It’s no secret that we struggled a little bit in the summer months, not being where we wanted to be, and even before the start of the playoffs we were struggling a little bit trying to find speed. We’ve put our head down and have really put together a good eight weeks to put us in this position, especially the last two weeks at Miami and Vegas. We’ve done an absolutely amazing job of finding the speed that we need to find and executing amazing races, so my emotion on that is huge pride and being proud of being with this group who is always working to get better and not getting down. They don’t get down or upset. Even when we’re not running very good they just go to work and they try to find ways to be better and that’s a group you want to be a part of and I’m really happy to be a part of this group that has that mindset because that’s a great mindset to have and that’s the people you want around you. So, I’m very proud to be at this point. They deserve it and now we just have to go and do it again this weekend, try to execute like we have the last two weeks and give us a shot to get to Phoenix.”


DID YOU FEEL LIKE HOMESTEAD WAS YOUR MOMENT TO MAKE THE CHAMPIONSHIP 4 AFTER THAT NAIL BITING FINISH? “Yeah, I was bummed we didn’t win because I thought we had a good shot to win and that’s all you can ask for. All you can ask for is trying to put yourselves in a position to try to win the race and being competitive enough to run up front, lead laps and have a shot to win and that’s all you can ask for. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen, but you have to hold your head high about you tried your best. I thought that was a good shot for us to punch our ticket, but, on the other side, even though we didn’t punch our ticket we did a great job of putting ourselves in a good spot for this weekend, especially for where we entered Homestead. Yeah, maybe a little bit of that, but that wasn’t really on the top of my mind at the moment.”


THIS IS THE FIRST TIME YOU HAVE BEEN ABOVE THE CUT LINE IN THE ROUND OF 8 ELIMINATION RACE, SO DO YOU LOOK AT THIS A LITTLE DIFFERENTLY THAN BEFORE? “No. Personally, I don’t really look at it any differently. It’s nice to be in that spot – above instead of clawing your way in. You’re still gonna have to fight hard. You can’t get relaxed unless you are the 20 or the 5 for this weekend. You still have a job to do and you still have to work hard and whether you’re below or above you still have to have the mindset of, ‘hey, we still have to go do an amazing job because I know other jobs are gonna do an amazing job as well, so we have to be on that level.’ So, I don’t think I have any different emotions, mindset on being above or below. Like I said, it’s nice to be above instead of the opposite, but you still have a very tough job to do and you have to go do your job.”


WHAT DID YOU SEE WHEN ROSS PULLED HIS MOVE LAST YEAR AT MARTINSVILLE? “I think his car was mainly red and black, I think. I looked in my mirror into three and I was like 10 car lengths to the good from the guy behind me, so I just kind of glanced in my mirror as a force of habit and I saw something. I didn’t pay any attention to it and then I looked at my mirror again off of four and I just see this car running video game speed and I’m like, ‘What the heck was that?’ I had no idea what it was at the time and then they told me after the race, so it was wild. I wasn’t watching the whole time, but I had a peek getting in the corner and it kind of confused me and then I looked up and I was like, man, I didn’t know. I thought someone had a problem, like someone had an issue and they were up there. I didn’t know it was intentional, so pretty crazy. I’ll never forget that. It’s one of those things that are burnt into your mind – pretty wild. It was more wild when I watched the replay because it looked fake. It doesn’t look real. It’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen.


ARE YOU GLAD YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BE ASKED TO DO THAT THIS YEAR? “I have to give Ross props. He did what he had to do. I mean, the amount of stones it took to do that is amazing and I don’t think anyone ever thought of that. You’re never gonna see it again. You’re not allowed to do that anymore, but it was pretty wild. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get in and he did that. Unfortunately, you’ll never see anyone do that again.”


WHERE DO YOU FEEL PENSKE WAS MISSING IT DURING THE FIRST PART OF THE SEASON? “It’s hard to pinpoint. We got a new nose, all the Fords did, and I think that took everyone a little while to adjust to it. You had a year of ‘OK, this is your aero balanced. Here is the optimal heights and travels you need to be the best,’ and then when you have a new nose and it shifts the aero balance then it’s like, ‘OK, well now where do we need to be and how do we get back to that spot? Oh, we can’t get back to this spot that we were, so how are we going to adjust to try to optimize everything?’ That’s tough to do when you don’t really have any tests and limited practice. That’s really hard to do and you’re very limited on things you can do to the car, so I think that was tough for everybody to get a handle on. I don’t think this was a big factor, but the 22 group was in the hunt for the championship (in 2022). We were too. We had two of us in the Round of 8 and they were 100 percent focused after winning Vegas. I think when you’re in that spot it’s really tough for a group to focus on next year when you have so much riding on this year, which we have great people who are always focused on the future, but that’s just tough to do. But I feel like the new nose was a little bit tricky for us and we’ve been working hard to try to get it right and I think you saw a good resurgence of the Fords from our camp in May, the Roush camp did a really good job with it as well. Front Row did a really good job with it, so I feel like it just took us a little bit to get going, but I think sometimes you have to have tough conversations like, ‘OK, we are in this spot. We’re struggling. How do we get better?’ You just have to have those talks and be open and our group does a good job of taking emotion out of it and just trying to figure out how to be better as a whole and that’s how you get better. You just work on it. It took a little bit longer than I would have liked, but at least we’ve gotten better.”


WHERE DID POST-RACE FEISTY RYAN COME FROM? ARE WE NO MORE MR. NICE GUY TO MAKE IT TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP 4? “I feel like that got blown out of proportion, personally. It was a half-joke anyway, my post-race comments. It’s not like me, but it’s intense stuff and he (Denny Hamlin) and I were racing hard. I probably said stuff on the radio that was just kind of in the moment stuff, but at the end of the day we’re racing hard. Did I feel a little crowded? Yeah, but when you look at it, it’s just two guys running real hard. Hey, you guys have been saying for a while that I’m too nice, and I did say a couple years ago that if I start not being as nice I don’t want to hear about it, so I guess we’re in that spot (laughing). Hey, it’s just words. It doesn’t mean anything and hopefully we move on from it.”


ARE YOU GOING TO GIVE AS MUCH IN THESE CLOSING RACES TO GET WHERE YOU NEED TO GO AS YOU HAVE IN THE PAST? “You definitely have to take. Everybody in the playoffs now, there’s no give anymore. It’s all take and that’s what you have to do. People approach it differently. Everyone is different of how much they take and how they take it, but you can’t give anymore. If you’re giving, you’re going backwards, so it depends what spot you’re in, but in the playoffs it’s hard to give. You have to be on the aggressive side and take and that’s just the nature of what it is.”


HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT SUNDAY BECAUSE YOU’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE? “I personally feel fairly decent about it. Like you said, we’ve run pretty good there in the past. It’s nice to have run good at places that you’re going to in the past, but I don’t think you can fully rely on that. Things change. We have a different tire going there this weekend. The track changes. Cars change, so it’s important you utilize the things you’ve learned in the past that has made you good, but I don’t think you can put all your chips into that basket. You have to understand that you have to continue to evolve and learn. That’s from a driver’s side and from a setup side how you unload, what have we learned this year as well at short tracks that maybe we can apply that’s made us better? Maybe we’ve done some stuff at short tracks that we worse, but you just learn that stuff and you have to be ready to do different things to be competitive. Hopefully, we can put together a good race like we have the last couple of weeks and it works out for us, but everyone’s heads are up high right now and understand that you’re not in a comfortable spot whatsoever. If you haven’t won, you still have to go execute and run a good race and hopefully we can go do that.”


IS IT OFFENSE OR DEFENSE THIS WEEKEND WHEN IT COMES TO HOW YOU APPROACH THIS – AT LEAST THE FIRST TWO STAGES? “It’s hard to say because it’s all situational. What spot are you in? When you’re coming down to these stages can you grab points? Is there a late caution? Then you have to make a tough decision, ‘Do you flip it? Do you stay out?’ What’s everyone doing around you? You have all these plans throughout the week that Jonathan and I talk about what we want to utilize, what’s important, what might happen in this situation. Ninety percent of the time those plans don’t come true. You have to be able to improvise on the fly and understand and make these calls quickly, and maybe it’s not part of your plan, but you have to be able to do that and adjust. I think that’s situational. There are times you’re gonna have to play offense. There are times you’re gonna have to play defense. That just depends on how cautions fall, pit cycles and what spot you’re in, so you have to be open to it all.”


TEMPS LOOK LIKE THEY’LL BE IN THE EIGHTIES THIS WEEKEND. HOW MUCH WILL THAT PLAY A ROLE? “I think it’s fantastic that it’s gonna be hot. That’s really good. I think it’s gonna help the racing out and hopefully lay some rubber down to where we’re moving around the racetrack a good bit. That place puts on such a better show when it’s mid-eighties than if it’s 45. It just gives you more options to move around and hopefully this tire just cakes rubber on the racetrack to where you’re gonna have guys searching and there are multiple lanes. I think that’s good. I’ve always preferred Martinsville to be a slicker race than when it’s really cold. I feel like we’ve run better at the slicker Martinsvilles in the past, so hopefully we can do that, but I think it’s good for the racing and the event. It’s always better when it’s a little bit hotter.”


WHAT’S YOUR OUTLOOK ON PHOENIX AND HOW CONFIDENT WOULD YOU BE SHOULD YOU MAKE IT? “You’ve got to get there first. I’m not really looking at Phoenix right now. We’ve got one job to do first and then I’ll look forward to it. Hopefully we can do it, but that’s not really on my mind right now. We’ve got a job to do first.”


WHAT HAS BEEN THE CHALLENGE OF THE SEASON FOR YOU? “I think the biggest challenge this year has just been trying to find speed. It’s kind of eluded us a little bit, especially in the summer months leading up to the playoffs. We’ve done a fantastic job here the last eight weeks of finding some good speed to where we’ve been able to run up front and get stage points, lead laps and stuff like that – especially the last two weeks. So I think that was a huge challenge during the year. That’s the toughest thing to find and you’re finding ones and twos, you’re finding little, tiny things here and there that hopefully just add up. There are no more big speed finders or revelations anymore. It’s all these little, tiny things that you hope add up over time, so that was tough. That’s super hard to find and we had just an absolute committee of people trying to find this stuff and props to them for doing a great job and this group does such a good job of that of digging down, so I would say that’s the tough part. I feel like our execution has been great this year, kind of the opposite of last year. I felt like last year our speed was fantastic and our execution was a little tough, whether it was on my side or some other things going on. That stuff you can normally fix easier than finding speed, so that’s been the biggest part of this year, but it’s coming at a time to where we’re finding it at the precise moments and you just hope that it keeps carrying.”


WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE SO CLOSE TO A CHAMPIONSHIP AND TO BE AT THIS POINT WITH AN OPPORTUNITY TO ACHIEVE THAT? “That’s all you want is an opportunity to be a champion of your sport. That’s with anything. You want to do a good job in whatever you do, whether it’s motorsports, other sports, your job. You want to do well and you want to be the best at what you’re doing, whether that’s winning a championship, getting a promotion, running a company, whatever that is you want to do that. That’s why you do it. You’re not just going through the motions. You want to be the best, so that’s the ultimate goal. That’s why everyone races is to win races and win championships. That’s why every team plays and that’s the biggest thing. Dad turned 61 yesterday, so they had a birthday dinner for him and it was nice talking to him about that, so hopefully we can keep doing our job for two weeks and have a late birthday present for dad. That would be pretty special because when I was a kid wanting to get into racing watching dad run it, that’s what you want to be. You see all the champions of the sport, Jimmie winning all these championships and see all these great. You want to be that guy, so that’s what you aspire to as a kid and we’re close to doing it. We’ve just got to dig down deep here the next couple of weeks.”


THIS IS YOUR FOURTH ROUND OF 8 APPEARANCE. OUTSIDE OF BEING ABOVE THE CUT OFF, WHAT MAKES THIS TIME DIFFERENT THAN THE PRIOR THREE IN THIS ROUND? “I think experience is big in this stuff, so you hope to learn from what you’ve done well in the past and you hope to learn from what you haven’t done well in the past. Personally, I did not do a good job last year in this round and it kept us out and it was solely on me, so those things you learn from in hopes that you make it right in the future and you become a better driver from it. I think we’ve learned from our prior mistakes as a team and me as a driver and you just keep building. That’s the route of getting better. You’re gonna make mistakes. Those things happen, but it’s how you rebound from them, how you learn from them is huge and that’s what makes you better. You just hope to apply those things and I think we have applied those things. You just hope they’re enough.”


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