NASCAR: Ryan Blaney’s special tribute after Atlanta win

Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, NASCAR (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, NASCAR (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Ryan Blaney’s victory in the BODYARMOR car in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway was extra special.

Team Penske NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Blaney has had a personal deal with BODYARMOR SuperDrink for several years now, and that deal recently became a deal that includes primary sponsorship of his #12 Ford in select races.

BODYARMOR made their first appearance of the 2021 season on Blaney’s car in the sixth race on the schedule, the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, this past Sunday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Blaney, who entered the 2021 season with four career victories but none since last June, won this 325-lap race around the four-turn, 1.54-mile (2.478-kilometer) oval in Hampton, Georgia to become the sixth different winner of the year.

It marked his first victory in a car with primary sponsorship from BODYARMOR, and this one will always be extra significant and special.

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The late five-time NBA champion and Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant became a major investor in BODYARMOR after they began back in 2011. Bryant was killed in a tragic helicopter crash last January along with eight others, including his daughter Gianna.

In his honor and in honor of the other eight lives lost, BODYARMOR utilized one of their races as Blaney’s primary sponsor to run a special purple and gold paint scheme in the race at Auto Club Speedway last March. That one-off scheme was a hit with fans, and Blaney was in contention to win that race until late tire issues.

Ryan Blaney, NASCAR
Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, NASCAR (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

After winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the BODYARMOR car, Blaney made sure to honor the “Black Mamba”.

He had the numbers 2 and 24 on his BODYARMOR hat. Gianna wore the latter while playing basketball at Harbor Day School in Corona Del Mar, California and Kobe wore the former during his final 10 seasons in the NBA after switching from the number 8.

Blaney had the opportunity to meet Bryant at a BODYARMOR convention in 2018, and he gave him his BODYARMOR firesuit from that year’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The two had a lengthy one-on-one conversation, which Blaney recalled to Beyond the Flag ahead of the 2021 season in an interview published on the one-year anniversary of the tragedy.

"“Kobe was a very, very huge investor in really kick starting that company back in 2011-2012, and when I got to meet Kobe it was in Las Vegas. We had a dinner, it was a big dinner with a lot of beverage companies that BODYARMOR was partnering with, a lot of retailers.“To be able to talk to Kobe, we talked for 15 or 20 minutes just he and I, we gave him a firesuit we ran earlier that year at Indianapolis. He was so excited for that gift. Just to get his mindset; as a kid, growing up and watching Kobe and his mentality on everything, that came out in just our conversation.“He was asking me questions about racing that I 100% knew the answer to, but I was nervous to mess them up because he was so intense, something he didn’t even know anything about. But he really wanted to learn all about it in a matter of 15 minutes. That just shows what kind of a person and competitor he was and his mindset going towards anything, just his outlook on life, you could see it on the court, off the court, what he was able to accomplish.“That was an absolute dream come true of mine, to be able to sit and talk to somebody like that, someone I’ve idolized ever since I was a kid, and just what they’ve done in their sport, and you can learn a lot from people like that, just really in your everyday life, even if you don’t play sports, so that was definitely a dream come true, and that wouldn’t have happened without BODYARMOR.“It was really special to be able to run the Kobe tribute scheme at California to honor that tragedy, he and his daughter and the other individuals involved. That’s an experience I’ll never forget, being able to talk to him at dinner.”"

On a side note for all the NBA fans out there, the BODYARMOR car also happened to secure its first win in what was LeBron James’s first race as a partner in the Fenway Sports Group, the parent company of Roush Fenway Racing.

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Roush Fenway Racing’s drivers, Chris Buescher and Ryan Newman, finished in seventh and 13th place, respectively. So if you want to look at it from a lighter-hearted perspective, Kobe’s company went to victory lane in LeBron’s first race.