2017 has been the breakout season for Ryan Blaney, getting the Wood Brothers back on track. He has proved that the sophomore slump does not exist, at least for him.
Entering his second full-time seasons in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Blaney has yet to cross the finish-line first at the end of a race. However, he finished runner-up in the Daytona 500 and has led 233 laps through 11 races, the most for the Wood Brothers in a single season since 1982 with Neil Bonnett at the helm, when he was out front for 412 circuits.
Sure, Blaney’s numbers don’t compare to some of the top drivers in the sport this season, including Brad Keselowski, his satellite teammate at Team Penske, who has recorded two victories, but thus far it’s been an upgrade from his rookie season. Leading all of those laps, as well as posting two top-five finishes, which is only one shy of his total number for 2016. He has also compiled four top 10s, but more importantly he has three playoff points, sweeping a pair of stages at Texas Motor Speedway and recording a stage victory at Kansas Speedway, the same event that he won his first career pole.
But those close to Blaney were not sure he could show this much potential so early into his Cup Series career, even a fellow racer–his father Dave Blaney.
“I thought if he could get a really good opportunity with a good team that he would be successful, or at least a good chance to be,” Blaney told Frontstretch, in regards to his son. “It’s a very hard thing and a lot of pressure. It’s a lot of things and he is doing a really good job keeping his head on straight and doing things he needs to do to learn.”
The Blaney family is full of racers. The father-son duo as well as Dale Blaney, Dave’s brother, who competes in a numerous amount of racing divisions. This season, he is competing in the World of Outlaws Sprint Series as well as the All Star Circuit of Champions division. It all started with Lou Blaney, Ryan’s grandfather, who competed in a variety of series on dirt.
Ryan was born into this talent, and used it at an early age.
“I think he was eight or possibly nine in quarter midgets,” Dave said. “The first two or three years he raced, I wasn’t around that much because I was racing so [his] mom would go with him, and I had some other guys that went with him. It’s hard to even know how serious they are going to be.
“It was probably two or three years later before I knew he was going to take it more seriously and not just have fun with it. Some kids are different. Some want to keep going with it and some don’t. You’ve got to let them feel their own way through it.”
After competing in legend cars, quarter midgets and bandoleros, Blaney wanted to follow in his fathers footsteps. To do so, he was put in a late model, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“At 14, he was in a pavement late model and you could see right away that he had something a little special,” Blaney said. “Then it was all about keep going with it and learning and wanting to learn and a desire to learn and get better. He’s [Ryan] done a good job with all of that.”
Each division that Blaney has advanced up the ranks of NASCAR, he has seemingly gotten better and better. He has four victories in both the Camping World Truck and XFINITY series driving for Brad Keselowski Racing and Team Penske, respectively.
This season Blaney has entered into four XFINITY Series races, each one of them resulting in top-five finishes, including three runner-ups.
As long as the 23-year-old continues to give it his all and not hang his head when something bad happens, his father will be pleased.
“The only time I think I ever got mad at him when he was younger was when he wasn’t giving 100 percent, and he would probably say the same thing,” Blaney said. “Mistakes are one thing, but effort is another. As long as we can see the effort then everything was good.”
Blaney admits that because of his busy schedule, competing in numerous of racing divisons this season, including the World of Outlaws Sprint Series and the Super DIRTcar Series, he is not sure how many of Ryan’s races he will attend. Prior to this past weekends All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he had been to “most of them.” But the goal is to get to at least half.
Being a part of the Wood Brothers for at least parts of the past four seasons, Blaney has learned more, and been around for the stories told by Glen and Leonard Wood, even more so than when he competed in NASCAR’s top division. He believes that Ryan is in the right situation.
“They’ve been through a lot and they’ve seen a lot,” Blaney said of the Wood Brothers. “They are fun guys to be around with so much history. It’s cool for Ryan,. He’s not a youngster that doesn’t look at the history of everything. He knows what they have done and what those guys have been through and it’s awesome.”
Throughout their NASCAR careers, which dates back to 1992 when Dave finished 31st in his XFINITY Series debut, the father-son duo have only competed against each other just once, in the inaugural Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway in 2013. That night the father took his son to school, bettering Ryan with a ninth-place result, compared to the youngster’s 15th.
About the author
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.