Transcript: Ryan Blaney – Martinsville Speedway

THE MODERATOR: We’ve now been joined by our race winner, Ryan Blaney who punched his ticket into the Championship 4, moving on to Phoenix next week.

Ryan, take us through those last couple laps from the vantage point of your seat in the race car. Also take us through this week, getting to this point, knowing how important this race was to you and your team.

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, the whole week was pretty standard practice, to be honest with you. Kind of riding momentum from Vegas and Homestead, knowing we run pretty decent here. Just hoping to build off of things we know and things we’ve learned throughout the year.

Just proud of the effort. Amazing car all weekend. Was able to work on it, get it better and better. I mean, yeah the last handful of laps, you’re just hoping for no yellow, right? You’re through to the next round, then you hope no late yellow where it can really become a bad deal. Just want everything to end.

Proud of the effort. Amazing couple days. Hopefully another amazing couple days next week.

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. How much of a different driver are you now compared to last year?

RYAN BLANEY: I don’t know. Yeah, I think last year, I talked about making a couple mistakes in this round, Vegas and Miami, it took us out. It kept us from getting to Phoenix.

All you can do is try to learn from those, try to be a smarter race car driver, try to understand the bigger picture. That’s like the biggest thing. At least that’s the biggest thing I took away from it.

Everyone makes mistakes, but do you learn from your mistakes or do you keep screwing up? We learned from ’em. We’ve been able to have a really, really good nine weeks so far in the Playoffs. Proud of everyone’s effort on our group.

But yeah, I feel like you try to learn from your mistakes, think of a bigger picture. Try to become a better race car driver. Doesn’t matter how good you are, how bad you are, you’re always trying to get better, evolve your skill set, pick things you don’t do well to try to do better.

We had a lot of talks this off-season, Jonathan and I, kind of meet internally with myself. Okay, what are some things you don’t like about how you approach the weekends? Let’s work on ’em, try to figure it out, make ’em better. I think we’ve done that. It’s definitely showing.

Q. Can you talk about making the Championship 4 for the first time. It’s what everybody works to achieve, that and a title. Can you talk about this accomplishment during this period in your career.

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, it’s definitely hard to do it, for sure. Even coming in like we did to the Playoffs, like not having a lot of Playoff points, stuff like that, then out-performing people, right? Just doing a good job, executing really well. That’s all you can ask for.

Yeah, I mean, all you want is a shot at a championship. You get your shot when the Playoffs start, if you make ’em. Okay, you have a shot. But then your real shot is if you get to Phoenix, right?

Yeah, it’s just nice to have an opportunity to actually race for a championship. So hopefully we can maximize the weekend. We’ll just see. I’m excited for it. It’s going to be fun.

Q. When was it today when you kind of felt you knew you were going to cross the line and get the checkered flag?

RYAN BLANEY: About lap 499 (smiling). I figured we had a good shot at it.

I mean, you never know. The last 20 laps, all that goes through your head is there’s going to be a yellow, there’s going to be a yellow, it’s going to screw up the whole race, people are going to stay out, people are going to take no tires, there’s going to be four cautions to end this thing. Hopefully you don’t get moved, spun, wrecked, ruin your year. That’s the only thing going through your head, right?

Just get to the white was the only thing that really concerned me at the time. Running down the 10, I was running harder. I think everyone just kind of fell off pretty good, and I saved my stuff early where I could get through traffic pretty good. It benefited us later in the run.

Yeah, just not till the white flag, you never know. Stay focused. Once you get to the white flag, you’re pretty good, so…

Q. What was your immediate reaction when you won it?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, a lot of different things to be proud of. Obviously getting to Phoenix. Winning here. I’ve always wanted to win here. I feel like we’ve lost a couple of ’em, two or three of ’em here. I grew up in High Point just south of here. I grew up closer to here than I did Charlotte.

I came here a lot as a kid. I loved watching Dad race here. I wanted a grandfather clock for a long time, ever since I was a kid. There’s those little special things that you remember.

Driving for the Wood Brothers right down the road from here. This place has been so special to me. Victory Lane has eluded me for years and years. I feel like we could have won two or three of ’em. It never happened. Feel like something always happened.

Everything fell in place today. We were really fast, able to pull it off. Yeah, a lot of joy and a lot of things to be proud of.

Q. How does it feel as a driver to come through in this kind of situation where it’s pressure, no tomorrow, that kind of thing? How does it feel personally to have succeeded under the circumstances?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, there’s a lot of pressure in these situations. I mean, I feel like if someone tells you, I don’t feel pressure, they’re lying to you because this is your season, this is what you race for. There’s a lot of men and women counting on your performance at the racetrack that work in the shops, that are on the team. There is a lot of pressure.

I think it’s how you handle that pressure that’s important, right? How do you approach it? How do you accept it and go to work, not let it get to you?

I think our group’s done that very well. No matter what our situation is, you’ve just done your job, done it to the best of your ability. This group’s job, when it’s done to the best of their abilities, can be winners and champions. Hopefully we can continue to bring that mindset to the racetrack here for next week.

Yeah, everyone is working super hard. Couldn’t be prouder of the 12 boys. They’re awesome. It’s cool to drive a fast race car.

Q. All you have to do now is go back to back to win the championship. That’s all.

RYAN BLANEY: People go back to back all the time, so… We’ll see (smiling).

Q. Over the past three weeks, you’ve found Jimmie Johnson’s lucky horseshoe, so to speak. Aside from your luck, your performance has been strong. What has been the turning point for your team?

RYAN BLANEY: What’s been lucky about it? I don’t think anything has been lucky about it. The last three weeks, we’ve been running amazing. We ran up front in Vegas. We had a chance to win at Homestead. We won today. I don’t think there’s any luck that goes into this. There may be lucky moments, but I don’t think a horseshoe is really true at all.

We’ve worked really hard to get to the point that we need to with speed, and our group’s executed very good races. They deserve to be here. I mean, yeah, luck, you can interpret luck how you want. The performance side, you still have to bring fast race cars, race cars capable to win.

We’ve done that. I think that is the biggest thing about our success, is everyone’s done a good job of figuring out how to get better, where to be better, applying it and having fast cars. Yeah.

Q. The time it took to get to this point, I wonder how does an athlete I don’t want to say fail, not to reach the mountain, it’s taken this amount of time, when maybe you’ve seen others go at a different rate? How do you not let that happen or how does that push you? The path to get here and how you didn’t let it defeat you.

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I mean, there’s been some bumps in the road, for sure. Maybe not being as, like, dominant as you want to be, right? Some of the other guys that are around your age who kind of came in at the same time, right, you want to be the best of that crop. We haven’t, right? We haven’t had the successes as like a Larson, Chase, those people.

I try not to let that get to me, right? Chase and I are great friends. It kind of motivates me like, Man, I want to be that guy, I want to be that guy winning a championship, all these races, I want to be that guy.

I think it motivates me more than anything. You’re happy for your buddy, right? It motivates you to try to be a better driver, to be a better driver on and off the racetrack, be better at what you do.

I don’t really let it get to me. I think it motivates me more than anything just to try to work on the things that you think you can do better. I think that’s the biggest thing that’s helped me out this year.

It’s hard to do. You’re picking out your flaws. You suck at this, this and this. Let’s change things up to make it better. Sometimes that’s hard to kind of admit. You don’t ever want to admit your flaws. I think it’s helpful for growth.

I think that’s been something good that has kind of helped me out for this year. Hopefully that answers your question.

Q. Is there a way to describe what it has been like? I know there’s still another step to take in this mountain, but to climb this mountain, do you feel like it’s breaking the glass ceiling, and what this journey has been like to get to this point?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, it’s definitely nice to get to Phoenix, right? I think this is my fifth Round of 8 and we haven’t been there yet. I had four before this; I didn’t get to the Final 4. It’s nice to accomplish that. Now you have a chance to race for a championship. Hopefully you do your best next week.

It’s nice to always kind of take the next step in your career. I think this is a good next step for our group and me personally. Hopefully we can make the most of it.

Q. It looked like there was a little bit of edge to your driving tonight. There were moments you weren’t afraid to put the bumper to some people. When you were racing Denny, you were going at it. You didn’t back down. Was there a little bit more aggressiveness in your mindset tonight, I’m not going to back down because the situation is too big?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I think you definitely don’t want to back down ’cause the situation is large.

Denny and I raced the heck out of each other there on the restart. It was good racing, crossing each other, stuff like that. We raced each other fine.

Yeah, I laid the bumper to some guys early trying to get up from where we started. That’s kind of what you have to do here, honestly. It’s hard to pass anybody here cleanly. Maybe like a hundred laps into the run you can pass.

We went with the mindset of we’re going to be aggressive tonight. That’s what me and Jonathan talked about, me and my dad talked about. We’re going to be aggressive. You have to be assertive. That’s how you establish yourself.

That was kind of our game plan. Yeah, I put the bumper to a few guys there in the first stage. I laid off of it later in the race when I got track position. But you have to do it because, I mean, they would do it to you so…

Q. You mentioned no caution. Were you thinking there’s going to be a caution, another caution? Were you waiting for the other shoe to drop?

RYAN BLANEY: Yes, yes. The last 40 laps, I’m like, All right, when is there going to be another caution? No way this thing’s going to run 130-whatever laps green. There’s going to be a caution. It’s going to be a split bag on pitting. If we have a caution with 30 to go, there’s going to be five more cautions like at the end of the Xfinity race last night. You never know what’s going to happen, right? You can get dumped, spun.

We’ve done all the right things tonight, and one caution can ruin it. You get jumbled, you can get punted, spun. That’s the only thing going through my head. Once we got the lead, all right, probably have a decent shot here. That caution is really going to screw everything up.

Just hoping for no yellow. You never know what’s going to happen, but you have to be ready for it. Don’t know how it would have played out if we did get a yellow, but fortunately for us, there wasn’t one.

Q. On paper you seem to have a very similar season as last year’s champion, Joey Logano. Do you see similarities this season, or do you think your path has been more unique?

RYAN BLANEY: No, it’s nice to point it out to me. Yeah, I think there are some similarities. The Playoffs for us, for Joey last year and me this year, have been fairly similar. Peaking at a really good time. That’s kind of what that group did last year. We’re definitely doing that this year.

Yeah, it’s good to have the support from everybody. Our groups work really closely together, me and the 22 and the 2. 21, as well. We all work really close together. I think that’s been good to kind of get information from everybody.

It’s been fun to work with Joey on that since he was out of the Playoffs early, kind of working with Joey through that stuff, picking his brain on a few things.

Yeah, could be. Hopefully it’s identical next week what Joey’s end of the season was last year (smiling).

Q. With what Joey did last year, what you have done so far, I don’t know if it’s the car or the state of the series, do you feel it’s too early to ever count any driver or organization out when it comes down to the Playoffs?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I think you make a good point. I don’t think you can ever count anybody else out, any team out. Especially with this car now.

I’ve always related this sport to a big circle of performance, right? You have teams on top of the circle for a long time doing well, then they’ll dip down. Teams will find something, what they’re doing, it’s not working. That’s how you react to it, get back on top of it. It’s a big circle. You see it all the time.

It’s about peaking at the right time. Our group is doing that. There’s no secret this summer, we struggled. Our group struggled. We just went to work. They didn’t get down. Our group didn’t pout around. They just understood where we needed to get better, and they got better. That’s the group you want to drive for. That’s why I’m excited to be at Team Penske and excited to be around these folks.

Yeah, just a lot of hard work by a lot of great men and women. Big testament. That’s a team you want to be a part of. Lucky to be a part of it.

Q. What were your opinions on the new Goodyear tire compound used here? Do you think it’s a good step forward for short tracks?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, it’s kind of hard to tell. You lay some rubber down. The track got dark, kind of got some clumps in it. I was surprised at that. I didn’t think the tire test didn’t really lay that rubber down. It was hotter today. This is best-case scenario. It’s hot, especially early in the race, two-thirds of the way through the race. That was good for it.

Yeah, I don’t know. I think it’s good it laid some rubber down. I think there’s some other things we still have to kind of weed through. I’d like to see more falloff. I don’t know, it’s hard to say if it’s in the right direction or not. Temperature is big from the spring.

Q. How do you balance being conservative and aggressive at the end knowing a Playoff spot is on the line?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I mean, it’s how every driver kind of approaches it a little bit differently. When you go, when you save, how much you save tire-wise.

I kind of started doing that in stage two when I was behind the 11. I saved a good amount of tire behind him, keeping pace with him, because I know it’s kind of hard to see the leaders get lap traffic and get stuck. You need some tire to be aggressive through ’em.

I’m, I’m going to save tire. If he pulls away from me a second, it’s going to come back when he catches the tail end of the field. I’m going to save it, and it benefited for us there.

I had the same game plan at the start of stage three when we made our last pit stop, save tire, see how long it goes. I think it’s going to pay dividends on the back end if it did go green.

Q. Have you heard from Mr. Penske yet? What did he have to say if you have heard from him?

RYAN BLANEY: No, unfortunately he wasn’t here today. I haven’t had my phone with me at all.

I’m sure I will hear from him very soon. Walt Czarnecki was here, Bud Denker was here, Tim Cindric was here. It was great to have these guys here, even if RP couldn’t come.

I’m excited to call RP on my drive home. That’s going to be fun.

Q. About 45 miles to the west of here is the home of Wood Brothers, the ones who gave you your first drive in the Cup Series. At a moment like this, do you think of them? The fact they really helped get you your start and helped get you to the point where you’re at today?

RYAN BLANEY: Oh, for sure. I think that makes this place even more special for me, getting to drive for those guys for a couple of years. I saw Leonard today. Leonard was on the grid today. He was psyched to be here. He always gives me the speech, gives me a bro handshake, which is awesome (smiling). I always like seeing Leonard. Great to see him today. Great to see he’s still doing really well.

I didn’t see Eddie or Len. It makes it even more special to drive for those guys from just down the road. This place means so much to them. Hearing stories about this back in the day, the ’40, ’50s, when Leonard was testing stuff with Glen. Awesome stories. Stuff we really enjoy hearing, as a driver, especially as a guy who’s driving for them, it’s just really, really cool. Definitely means a lot more. I’m sure Eddie and Len have texted me.

It was awesome to see Leonard today. He said he believed we were going to win. I guess he was right, which is common for him.

Q. Did you get a discussion after Talladega and your burnout?

RYAN BLANEY: No, I didn’t. I didn’t see Inman unfortunately. I don’t know. That’s an in-the-moment thing. Probably should have done one, but I’m happy I didn’t. I don’t know.

Q. When Jonathan and Walt were in here earlier, they pointed to your performance at Texas or that race as the turnaround in the Playoffs. Do you agree with them, if so, why?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I do look at Texas maybe a little bit. We weren’t very good that weekend at all. We stuck with it and kind of got off sequence on pit strategy, was able to get track position and held it.

I think the fight that we had of holding our track position was good. It was a big turning point. It was a big confidence boost for anybody. I sped at the end of the race and ruined it for us. I thought, yeah, it was good for confidence for everybody, set us on the right track of we’re getting a little bit better, but we got to keep working.

Yeah, I agree with them.

Q. One thing I noticed today is that your fan base is definitely increasing. How does that feel?

RYAN BLANEY: I’ve been super fortunate. I’ve always had really good fans.

Q. It’s picking up.

RYAN BLANEY: Is it? I don’t get cussed at very often by fans. That’s good. I don’t get shot the bird very often. One guy did earlier this year, but I gave it right back to him (smiling).

No, yeah, I’ve been really lucky. I don’t know why. People ask me all the time, How do you get fans? If you were running for whatever, how do you get people to vote for you?

I don’t know. I am who I am. If you like it, that’s fantastic. If you don’t, whatever. I don’t really care. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of great fans. A lot of fans of my dad probably. They kind of watched our family growing up.

Yeah, I’ve been lucky to have a lot of really, really cool people that support me. I can’t ask for more, honestly. I think they make you feel good, that’s for sure, on the weekend. If you’re getting supported by the grandstands, when I got out of the car on the frontstretch, it was unreal how much the fans were cheering, how much support it was.

It’s something cool for us when you can see it because we’re so removed from that during the race. It’s not like any other sporting event where you can hear the fans and you’re playing off their energy. This is completely different.

It’s good to see that stuff, especially after you haven’t seen anybody for four hours. It’s nice to get out and see a lot of people cheering for you and smiling faces.

Q. Have you figured out where you’re putting the clock?

RYAN BLANEY: I’ll figure out a spot somewhere. I don’t normally keep trophies in my house. It’s kind of too cool not to do.

Q. Most broadcasts mentioned how Denny Hamlin is so good on the long run. He mentioned today you were the best long run car out there. What allowed you to be aggressive but have the pace at the end?

RYAN BLANEY: I think our car, what it did really good was I’ve always been — they call me a ‘curb machine’ here. I just run around the curb all race, inches from it all race. It’s like opposite of running the wall. On your left side, a little curb.

To me, that’s how I always run this place. You get under the corner, it takes rubber down. I’ve always gotten below it. Just patient, rolling around the curb as long as I can, driving straight off.

You see people with wide exits spinning their tires, right? That hurts you later in the run. I’ve always kind of asked of my car just to roll like crazy to where I can… Maybe I don’t get in super fast compared to guys, but once I get to the curb, I roll along the curb so fast, I don’t pick up the throttle till later, that allows me to come straight. That just saves tires, right? If you’re straight driving off compared to an angle off the corner, it just helps your tires.

That’s something I’ve always done here. It was a big benefit in the old car. It’s starting to become a benefit in this car. It benefited us tonight.

Yeah, different kind of lanes. Things I’ve done for three or four years. We were versatile. Heck, I passed a couple guys on the outside getting above the rubber. I’ve always preferred to run right against the curb. Our car was really good at doing that tonight.

THE MODERATOR: Ryan, congratulations on that win today. See you on Thursday.