Q. Why can you win the championship?
RYAN BLANEY: I think what we’ve been doing the last three weeks, we’re plenty capable of winning the championship. The execution we’ve had has been pretty remarkable. I feel like we had the best speed and best races out of anybody in the round of eight. You just hope to keep doing that. Our group can.
This group is definitely poised to do it. We had a good shot at it last year. I think we learned from what kept us from winning a championship last year and have been able to apply it this year. Just have to go do our job Sunday.
Q. Why now?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, that’s a good question.
I mean, you’re always trying to find things that you can do that make you better, whether they’re speed on the track, whether they’re at the race shop, preparation, things as a driver. You just hope all those things come together at some point, and they all complement each other.
I think that’s what’s going on right now, is everything is playing off of each other, everyone is doing their job really well right now and their confidence is high. All those things have kind of culminated into this moment, this weekend.
It’s one of those things that, like, you try and try to do every year, but it’s hard to do. It’s hard to get all those pieces together where everyone is running on all cylinders. Our group is definitely firing on all cylinders right now. Proud of them for that, for sure.
Q. What has this week of preparation been like? Is it different for you?
RYAN BLANEY: The prep work, okay, maybe it’s a little bit more extensive as far as, you know — but I already do all the stuff. I already go through previous races. Jonathan and I talk all week about what we’re going to do, what the plan is. Maybe just a little bit more in detail about, okay, little tiny things that you try to think of these things in your head: What if this happens? What is our plan?
You just kind of plan a little bit more for things that could happen. I think that’s more of the things that we’ve done differently than what we normally did, than what we did last week going into Martinsville.
Spend so much time already on preparing and planning, figuring out what you need to do. Yeah, it’s a little bit more for this weekend I feel like just in details. At the end of the day you’re still racing. Still racing like every week. You’re going for a big prize. That’s what calls for a little bit more discussion on small details.
Q. You’ve had a lot of success here in Phoenix. What is about this track?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, this track kind of fits what we do in this car especially. Even in years past we’ve been strong here in the older generation car. But especially this Next Gen car, we’ve been really strong. Had a great shot to win this thing in the fall last year. Had a good shot to win it in the spring this year. Hopefully you can bring that same speed and build on what you learned.
But, yeah, whatever we do at our shop just kind of fits this place. I feel like we’ve always done a really good job no matter what size track. If two different ends of the speedway are very different, we do a good job of making both pretty good.
I look at Texas, I look at Gateway, here is similar to that. We just do a good job at it, of figuring out what we need to be travel-wise, setup-wise.
Yeah, just fits kind of our thought process. That’s pretty nice. Hopefully we can finally win one here. We’ve been close a couple times.
Q. How much of it is mental? You’re all great drivers, really amazing teams. How much do you think it is going to be mental?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of it is. It’s like how do you handle the pressure of the moment, right? I’ve always said, like, if someone tells there’s no pressure in these moments, they’re lying, right? There’s always pressure in these moments. This is what you do, this is what you live for, this is your livelihood. There’s hundreds of people back at the race shop that rely on you. It’s there.
It’s how do you accept the pressure and use it for your benefit with your group. I feel like mental toughness is very important, especially throughout the race. Throughout this week, throughout the race, there’s going to come a time where not everything is going to go perfect. You’re not going to be leading the whole race compared to these other three guys. You’re going to have to figure out a way to get back to the front.
I think how you process that is super important. Yeah, there’s a big part of that.
Q. In other words, you can’t panic? If you panic, you’re done?
RYAN BLANEY: That’s with any situation, right? You panic, you lose focus, you kind of become scatterbrained. It’s a big part of trying to stay calm and focused on the overall task. That’s, like, the biggest thing. Don’t get caught up in one little thing that’s going on, just try to focus on the end result.
Q. Does Team Penske winning the championship last year in the first year of the Next Gen car give you any type of advantage on Sunday?
RYAN BLANEY: I don’t think so. No, I mean, it’s cool to have the opportunity to go back to back, right? Something Penske has never done on the Cup side.
I think with the 22 winning that championship last year, there’s obviously good notes we can go off of, right, as far as coming back here, setup, stuff like that. I don’t think it’s a huge advantage. Cars are a little bit different this year, stuff like that.
Q. You’ve talked about this in the past, but the dynamic between you and William here. It’s unique, right? He referred to you as his brother-in-law last week. What is the dynamic when you guys are racing each other? Do you feel like you race him any harder than anyone else? What has this been like for Erin with both of you guys now in this Championship?
RYAN BLANEY: No, I don’t think — William and I have always raced really well together personally. He and I are buddies. He’s a good guy. I’ve gotten the pleasure of getting to know him, kind of more in-depth with him, the relationship side of that piece.
Yeah, he comes from a great family. He’s a good kid. Awesome race car driver. Him and I have a lot of respect for each other.
But at the end of the day, yeah, it is kind of funny we’re both going for a championship. I told Erin, You got the best percentage of anybody, of someone you care about winning this thing. You got a better chance than us, all four of us sitting up here (laughter).
It is a funny dynamic. At the end of the day he and I still understand we’re both competitors, but we’re going to race each other with respect, too.
Q. Knowing each other as well as you do, does it make it more predictable what moves he’s going to make?
RYAN BLANEY: Not really. I feel like that stuff, the off-track stuff and then behind the wheel is so different.
You learn more about somebody racing them every single week, right? You can’t really apply that to outside the car, stuff like that. It’s all strictly kind of, I know how this guy is going to race, a move he’s going to make because he’s known for this kind of thing, I’ve seen it a few times in the race car.
That stuff doesn’t really I don’t think applies too much.
Q. Do you do anything differently coming out here? Are you able to enjoy the position you’re in?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I mean, honestly, Monday, Tuesday was really good actually. I enjoyed more going to the race shop and seeing everybody on Monday. We did our win toast on Tuesday with everybody. That’s always special, having not only the NASCAR folks, but INDYCAR, sports car there as well.
Seeing all them, figuring out, supporting that we can go for a championship is massive, too, right? Even the other series. That part is the best to me. We got out yesterday, I’ve been able to enjoy it, I think. A lot of people have told me that, like, Hey, this weekend is what it is, but remember to enjoy it because it’s an opportunity that not a lot of people get. You get to race for a championship. You get to be one of the four drivers going for it.
That part I’ve tried to keep in my mind, like, enjoy being here. Try to take it all in. You never know what’s going to happen, right? You could never be here again. You have to appreciate it while you can but at the same time don’t lose focus on your job, your task. There’s still a big task to do.
It’s been a pretty good week. I’ve really enjoyed it. All week, I’ve just been itching to get here. I wanted to get here and get going and keep riding this wave that we’ve been riding.
Q. Drivers in the past have said they felt like they’re going to race differently in this race compared to others. Have you shown that respect to other championship drivers in the past?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, if you get here and you’re not part of the four, you’re very lenient towards those guys. At least I’ve always been. That’s how it should be, right? I think every driver knows, and I wouldn’t call it an unwritten code, because it’s not, but like being respectful of their race, understand what they’re going for, like not racing the heck out of them, putting them in bad spots.
You don’t want to be involved in ruining someone’s championship if you’re not part of that championship. I feel like everyone has always been respectful of the four drivers. Everyone is different. At least I’ve always just kind of let them do their deal and not mess with them, just kind of let them race it out between each other.
Q. What makes you so good here?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I mean, I think what we do at our race shop fits here really well. That helps. But I think as far as me as a driver, like…
Q. You talk about what you do at the race shop. What do you mean by that?
RYAN BLANEY: The approach we have on the weekends setup-wise, how we approach these places of two different ends, right? I compare this place a lot to Gateway. The corners are flipped, but it’s practically similar. We just do a good job of kind of figuring out how to set our cars up for these two very different loaded ends. It just kind of fits the narrative for these racetracks.
Hopefully it still fits it. We’ll find out tomorrow. As far as me personally, I’ve just enjoyed it. It’s a unique, challenging racetrack. Pretty funky place. There’s a lot going on with the different lanes, too. It makes it nice. Hopefully the track gets wide on Sunday to where you can move around. With it being so hot, I think we’re going too.
That’s good. It’s helped this place out a lot as far as the racing side goes. But, yeah, whether it’s driver personally liking it and team, their ideas working well here, it just kind of all fits well together.
Q. You talk about learning the track, studying the track, probably sim time as well. How much time goes into studying what the other three have done here in the past, figure out their strengths and weaknesses?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, as far as studying the other three guys here, zero. I mean, absolutely zero. Did I pay attention to where those guys finished last year in the spring while I was watching the race? Yes. I didn’t think about that stuff at all. Just try to worry about yourself, right?
You understand who you’re racing, but at the same time you have to worry about yourself. You have to figure out how do I get myself, our team, our race car working how it needs to around here, then we’re going to see how we stack up with those guys.
In the current race on Sunday, then you figure out where are they weak at. Are they weak getting in the corner, not get off the corner very good. That’s when you really apply that stuff ’cause it changes so much from race to race. From the spring race here to this race, if one of them was wicked loose in the spring race here, that could be totally different when we come back.
You don’t really put any thought into that.
Q. How important is this practice session with the newer tires?
RYAN BLANEY: It’s nice to have more practice somewhere we’re not really used to. It reminds me of the old days. Three sets of tires, 50 minutes. You can make three runs on a new set every time and kind of really get a good read. That’s what we did last year. That was kind of our plan. We did three 20-lap runs on our sticker set, you get a great read on how your stuff is, how it fires off, where it goes.
I think the longer practice does help. Gives you more freedom to kind of change more stuff up in the garage area. So you have to open that box back up from what we’re used to doing week in, week out, being limited on changes on pit road. Now with this practice, you have more options to change. You have to come up with a little bit different notebook of how you plan on going, what changes you want to try.
That part switches it up a little bit from my standpoint of, hey, we can actually try these things. When I talked to Jonathan about it, that switches up Jonathan’s thought process, too. We have this option now.
It is a big switch-up. I’ve always enjoyed more practice. I think that’s the way it should be, personally. It’s nice to have it this weekend.
Q. As a driver, what kind of X factor are you thinking this weekend that the other three don’t have?
RYAN BLANEY: X factor? I just look at how we’ve been the last three weeks. Really, really proud of our effort. Our group, I mean, we didn’t really lead at Vegas, but we were super fast there. Had a great shot to win at Miami. Just absolutely whipped everybody at Martinsville last week.
I think the momentum we have coming into this weekend is huge. I talk about momentum in this sport is really big. Confidence, peaking at the right time is huge. That’s in any sport, right? The team that peaks at the right time, you never know what can happen. It happens every single — whether it’s stick and ball, whatever, make the Playoffs, your team starts peaking at the right time. It happened in baseball this year.
That’s like huge. I think this team is on that upside right now to where we’re where we need to be at the perfect time.
Q. Given how well you raced here last year, what are you hoping to repeat from last year?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, you hope you learn from what made us so good last year in this race. I thought Joey and our car were the best two by far in this race last year. Good enough for him to win the championship, us to run second. You hope to learn from that.
You hope to learn from the spring this year. I’m not a huge believer of solely relying on things you learned in the past at these tracks because things change all the time. You have to be willing to switch up things here and then for going back to these tracks. You can’t just rely on your old stuff and expect it to run good. You have to continue to evolve.
Hopefully we do that. Hopefully we bring the same speed we had here last year. That would be very nice.
Q. Three of the four drivers are trying to compete for their first championship. What are some of the obstacles you and your team are going to have to overcome?
RYAN BLANEY: I think the biggest obstacle is you have three other teams going for it. Those are the toughest obstacles, is beating everyone else. That’s the toughest thing we do in our sport. That’s what makes racing so hard. I’ve always said, driving race cars is really easy, but when you’re trying to beat everybody else, that’s what makes it really hard to do.
Yeah, that’s the biggest obstacle, trying to figure out how to beat three other really good race teams and race drivers.
Q. This is the youngest Championship 4. Do you kind of feel like a veteran among these guys? What is your take on perhaps being the next generation NASCAR driver?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I’m not the oldest, but I think I’m the second oldest one. I don’t know. I did see that stat, this is the youngest Final 4. That’s neat to be a part of it. Interesting age, like a wave right now, certain ages. I personally feel like one of the older guys now with, like, Cindric and Burton being on my team, them being like 21, 22. Makes me feel old.
But, no, it’s just neat to see all different kinds of ages, right? You see such a wide variety throughout the years of the Final 4 of guys with tons of years under their belts, guys with only a handful of years. All that kind of culminates, and this is just one of those ones that everybody is in the middle of their career. William is younger, but he’s been around for a long time.
Yeah, it’s one of those things. I’m not going to say it’s turning of the tide ’cause it’s not because there’s still a lot of great racers that are still in their upper 30s. Yeah, it’s just one of those weird Championship 4s that everyone seems to be around their late 20s.
Q. Last week’s win, you led a ton of laps there. You led a lot of laps in races in the past but couldn’t pull it out. To be able to do that last week, does that matter going into this weekend?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I think it matters. The way we were able to do it last week was great because we had to come from the middle of the pack after all the pit stuff was kind of jumbled. Being able to work our way through and be patient for the first hundred laps of that run really I think kind of slowly started us moving forward.
I thought the discipline we all had, whether it was on the pit box, Josh up top, me behind the wheel just understanding you’re in it for the long haul, let’s just inch our way forward and close this race out. That was great.
I feel like we executed really good. I think it’s everyone getting better. Like I talked about earlier, everyone is syncing up at the right time of doing the best job they can do, in the pits, at the wheel, at the race shop. Everything is just kind of clicking. Like I said, you work a long time to try to get all that stuff synchronized. Last week was a perfect example of it, perfect storm. It ended up with us winning the race.
Q. To have the chance to add a series championship to your family, have you thought about that at all?
RYAN BLANEY: I got asked about it earlier this week. That’s the only time I thought about it.
I don’t sit around and think about that. I mainly want to do it — obviously, my parents are going to be here. I mainly want to do it for them, right? I grew up watching Dad race. It’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to do this like he did. I know all the work he had to do to get me here, right? I saw all the sacrifices he and my mother made to get me to this point, to get started.
It would be cool to come full circle for them. I think as a kid, right, your biggest thing you want to do when you’re a kid is make your parents proud. That would be the ultimate proud moment I think.
No, that would be just great. Yeah, the championship, my uncle Dale was there last week in Martinsville, he’s an All-Star champion. My dad is an Outlaw champion. My grandfather won tons of championships on dirt tracks. It would be cool to bring an asphalt championship to the Blaney family name. That would be nice. And someone to tell me I would be the first champion from Ohio. That’s even more motivation, so…
Q. Why did you choose stockcars when your dad had more success in Sprint cars?
RYAN BLANEY: Really just location where I grew up. Like I said, I was born in Ohio, but we moved down to North Carolina in, like, ’98, ’99, when I was four or five. Dad started running NASCAR, that series, in the late ’90s, early 2000s. By the time I was old enough to start racing, North Carolina, it’s more like asphalt country, right? Late models, legend cars, Bandoleros, quarter midgets. Was just location.
Especially back in the early 2000s, it’s not known like it is now. You don’t have Millbridge, all that other stuff. This was just the best opportunity for us. Just decided to go the asphalt route because it was the closest thing that we could get.
Q. Before a race for a championship, all these things with sponsors, fans, photos, things like that. Championship event, any other sport, those athletes are in the locker room, they’re not around that. Have you had conversations with other athletes about that? What did they say?
RYAN BLANEY: Anytime I meet another athlete — I’ve gotten the privilege to meet a lot of great athletes that I’ve enjoyed watching growing up. Whenever they’re at the track doing a meet-and-greet with me, like, You guys do this before the race? You’re out here, meet-and-greets, sponsors, signing stuff. We don’t do this.
I met Ray Allen in Miami four years ago. He was like, Is it okay if I’m here?
Yeah, this is my day.
He was like, It is?
They’re just shocked. This is what we do. It’s just a different world.
This stuff for us, the race day stuff, yeah, Sunday will be a little bit more for us than what we’re used to. At the end of the day it’s kind of part of the deal, right? I’ve tried to appreciate it, right? It’s a privilege to be able to do this stuff because you get to race for a championship, so…
Q. What do the nerves typically feel like, and what do you anticipate they might feel like Sunday?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I don’t know. I haven’t had any nerves yet. I’m sure Sunday morning it will kind of hit, right? You wake up, All right, this is the day, we’re finally here. Probably be a little bit more excitement than nerves.
I think at some point they will hit you. It’s how you kind of just shove ’em to the side, now you’re going. I do get nervous before some races every now and then, kind of big events, stuff like that. I think once I get in the car, like, everything just kind of goes away. You’re, like, in your little safe space, you can go do what you love to do.
I’m sure they’ll hit at some point. They’ll go away once we get going and you start thinking about the task.
Q. (Question about the commercial.)
RYAN BLANEY: I was stung. I saw that come out. I knew he did it. He told me he was going out there to do it. He showed me the helmet he was painting for it. I’m trying to get him to trade me that helmet. He doesn’t trade helmets. Even with me, he doesn’t trade helmets. What do you want? What do you want me to trade?
No, that was cool, though. It’s awesome for the sport, right? I think that’s so cool. I’m jealous he got to meet him. Yeah, I was a little hurt when I saw that. But happy for him. Super happy. Even though he never has seen Star Wars in his life.
Q. Nobody at Penske has told you about the beard?
RYAN BLANEY: It’s the Playoff beard. I’ve done it for a few years.
Q. Championship week, they didn’t want you to clean up?
RYAN BLANEY: Must be good luck.
Q. What is your dynamic with William on and off track?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, William and I have a great relationship.
Q. (No microphone.)
RYAN BLANEY: I knew William a little bit before he started, he and Erin were dating. Then I really got to know him, kind of outside the track, the last three or four years now. I mean, he’s a great guy. He comes from a really good family. So I’ve enjoyed kind of getting to know him away from the track and stuff.
I don’t have a problem with it. I feel like people make more of a deal it than it actually is. He and I have a good relationship. We respect the hell out of each other.
At the end of the day we do race hard on the racetrack like any other competitor. I don’t race him any differently than I would anyone else that I have respect for.
No, it will be fun. I told Erin, yeah, you have the best shot percentage to, like, be happy after the race. You have 50% shot to be happy. We’ll see. It will be fun.
Q. Would you be happy if he won?
RYAN BLANEY: Overall I would be. I probably would be upset for a little bit, right? You just lost. But I would be happy for them, him as well, that he did win. I would show him a bunch of respect.
Initially I wouldn’t be happy, but you do pay your respects. Yeah, I would be happy for him.
Q. Are there bragging rights at Thanksgiving?
RYAN BLANEY: No. We don’t brag to each other, right? We don’t do any of that. We did say earlier this week, people asked me, If Blaney wins, are you coming to Thanksgiving dinner? Yeah. If William wins are you going to Thanksgiving? Yeah. It’s not that big a deal. We’re competitors on the racetrack, but we’re going to have our same deal off the racetrack. It is what it is.
Q. You have to feel like you have some mo coming after last weekend?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, we definitely got some momentum. The job we’ve done in the last month has been pretty remarkable, something to be proud of. On our side, it wasn’t a secret we struggled in the summer. Feel like everything we were trying to get better just wasn’t working, right?
That can get frustrating, but no one gave up at our group. Everyone beared down, they didn’t complain, get upset. They just did the work. They worked really hard to get where we need to be. That’s the culmination. It’s not like it happens overnight. These things take a lot of time. It took months this summer to get where we are now.
I’m proud of that effort. But we definitely got good momentum. Hopefully we can continue it for Sunday.
Q. Why do you think the four of you, I can’t think of any incidents or rivalries, maybe I’m missing something, it seems like you all sort of respect each other, why is that the case?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I don’t know. I really don’t know. Yeah, I kind of think — haven’t had really run-ins with these guys at all.
Yeah, I mean, unfortunately for you guys, there is no, like, bad blood, bitter rivalry in this Championship 4. I was thinking about that earlier this week. I’m like, Damn, right, no rivalry. No one is mad at each other in this one.
But I don’t think that’s going to make it any less of a good show. All of us race really hard on the racetrack with each other. Me, William, Kyle and Chris have raced the hell out of each other before, but just never have ended in an incident to where it’s like no one’s mad at each other.
Yeah, it’s just one of those Championship 4s where no one has like any beef. Doesn’t matter.
Q. Do you have any superstitions? What is your pump-up song for Sunday?
RYAN BLANEY: I don’t really listen to any music before the race. I’m more just kind of sit and relax in the silence.
Race day superstitions? I don’t really have any. The only one I would say is just routine. I have to put my right glove on before my left. It just feels weird to me if I do it the opposite. I don’t know if it’s a superstition. Maybe if you do it all the time, maybe it is. I would say more of a ritual than a superstition. Right glove on before the left.
Q. Are we witnessing a changing of the guard with this Championship 4?
RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, like I say, there’s a lot of really good racers that are older than 31 that just happen to miss it. I feel like every year has kind of had a good mixture of the veteran, veteran guy, the middle-of-the-road guy, the young guy, and the fourth one is like up-in-the-air age.
It might be. Kevin is retiring this year, which is going to be hard to go to the racetrack next year without him. That’s going to feel weird. Just like with everyone who has retired recently — Jimmie, Jeff, Tony. That’s just been odd, right? Maybe for me especially, a guy who grew up enjoying watching those guys, those guys are not racing anymore, now I’m racing and they’re watching me at home, right?
I don’t know if it’s changing of the guard. Drivers are coming up that are really kind of getting to the point in their careers where they can start making it to the Championship 4 and they’re running really well to get there.
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