2017 has started off well for Ryan Blaney and The Wood Brothers, currently sitting 13th in the championship standings, 18 markers ahead of the playoff cutoff.
Blaney kicked off the season finishing runner-up in the Daytona 500 to Kurt Busch, after making a charge on the final lap, coming from seventh to second. Since the Great American Race, Blaney has recorded two other top 10 finishes, placing seventh at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and ninth at Auto Club Speedway.
After leading a career-high 148 laps at Texas Motor Speedway and earning two playoff points for sweeping the first two stages, it has been a bit of a downward spiral for Blaney. In the last three races, the No. 21 car has an average finish of 36th, though the problems haven’t been of his own doing.
At Bristol Motor Speedway, Blaney lost his power steering. Then at Richmond International Raceway, Busch cut down the left rear tire of the No. 21 car for eighth position. Most recently at Talladega Superspeedway, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., eventual race winner drove through Blaney, ending the Wood Brothers quest to get back into Victory Lane, despite picking up stage points in the first two stages.
As the season rolls on, Blaney is coming to some of his best tracks, including this weekend at Kansas Speedway, where he has two top 10 finishes in four career starts.
Dustin Albino, Frontstretch.com: Currently, you’re 12th in points. How would you assess the season thus far?
Ryan Blaney: I think it’s been going really well. We’ve had fast cars everywhere we go. Honestly, all the places that we haven’t had
good runs at, our cars have been super fast and things have just happened where we weren’t able to finish well. Those are kind of a bummer to know what could have been, but you have to look at the positives and our cars have been really fast. Hopefully we can keep that up, keep that going and always improve week-to-week.
Albino: Are you at all surprised with the hot start that you’ve gotten off to?
Blaney: Not really. I know the hard work that everyone has put in over the off-season with The Wood Brothers group, the Penske group and Ford in general. We worked really hard in the off-season to be on top of our game right off the bat. You never want to play catch up. But at the same time, you always want to find new things to improve on. You never want to get complacent and not work on things because you get behind. We’ve done a good job at starting on top and improving week-to-week, so it doesn’t surprise me at all.
Albino: What do you need to win?
Blaney: Just finishing out the last third of the race. That part is so tough to do. There are veterans in this sport that I think have figured out how to finish out those races. I feel like we’re on the cusp of doing it, but haven’t completed a full race yet. It’s a matter of just trying to figure out what we need at the end of races either from my side and knowing what the car needs. Our pit stops have kind of sucked at the end of the race, position wise. We’re a pretty young team, so it’s just a matter of cleaning those things up and I think we will be right there.
Albino: Did you expect these results in your rookie year, or do you think being a year older and more mature has helped?
Blaney: Being more mature this year as far as me and the team, that’s been the big factor. We’ve been able to communicate a little bit better, knowing how these races go and trying to work on what we need before the race and throughout the race.
Albino: How does it make you feel performing so well with such an iconic team?
Blaney: You obviously want to do well for them. Someone that’s been around the sport, really since the sport started and dominating back in the day. We want to get them back to that, to their winning races and go out and win races for them. That’s what they have been used to for a long time. They’ve had a hiatus for a little bit, but we’re working on, and close to getting them back to being contenders every single week.
Albino: How hands on is Leonard Wood with the race team?
Blaney: He’s pretty hands on and helps out when he can. It’s been awesome to have Leonard there with us. He will come to most of the races this year. Really, every year he makes it to most. Glen [Wood] will make it to a handful of races. Leonard has been a great person for the team and a great motivator, not only for myself but everybody on the race team, but on race days, throughout the weekends, that part is always nice to see and he always has a positive attitude toward everything. That’s never a bad thing.
Blaney: They’ve been a great help. They’ve been great teammates. I look at Brad as a pretty big mentor to me because he gave me my first shot in NASCAR in 2012 driving his trucks. I did that for a couple years. He’s been a huge person to help me out throughout the years and Joey has been the same way. It’s been great to talk to those guys and get their input on things. They are two of the best racecar drivers in the garage, so to be able to talk to them has really helped me get going.
Albino: How influential has Roger Penske been on you being so young into your career?
Blaney: He definitely influences you in a different way. I’ve drove for him really my whole NASCAR career in some way. He changes you not only as a racecar driver, but as a person with his outlook on life in business and how he goes about getting things done. That’s really benefited me in situations and he’s gave me some great input and great advice on things. Being able to drive for Roger has been really great and get going in the sport.
Albino: How has your dad helped you with the process of adjusting to the Cup Series?
Blaney: He comes to a lot of races every year. He still races himself, but finds time to come over here and help out throughout the weekend. I never hesitate to ask him what he thinks he sees compared to other cars and what they are doing. I feel comfortable asking him that stuff because he has been around it all. He’s been there and has seen everything. He’s not going to sugarcoat anything, which is kind of what I like. He’s going to tell you straight up if you are doing something wrong. I feel like that’s the only way to get better. He’s been a huge help and I’m really fortunate to still have him around the race track.
Albino: What would it mean for you to be able to race against him in the Cup Series?
Blaney: We haven’t really been able to do that. We’ve done it once or twice and it was all on dirt tracks a handful of years ago. I actually beat him for the win by a nose or something like that. I would love to race Cup cars with him or XFINITY cars. That would have been a cool thing to happen, but you never know, maybe it can still happen one day.