Ryan Blaney discussed his “strange” start to the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season and his optimism moving forward, starting with this Sunday night’s race.
Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney earned his first victory of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season this past Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway. It just so happens that it came in a non-points race, the All-Star Race, and didn’t count toward his playoff eligibility.
Through 13 races on the 26-race regular season schedule, the driver of the #12 Ford is still in a good position, sitting in second place in the point standings as the highest ranking driver without a victory. However, despite sitting in second, he has yet to finish any individual race higher than fourth this year.
“It’s definitely kind of been a strange year,” Blaney told Beyond the Flag. “I feel like it’s been a good year for us. I feel like we’ve been fast. We fired off this year out of the gate, really strong cars, had a shot to win a few races and just didn’t really fall our way. And the past month and a half I feel like we’ve lacked a little bit of speed in our cars.”
Blaney is confident that the speed he and the entire Team Penske organization displayed at Texas Motor Speedway can be a sign of things to come, starting with this Sunday evening’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“But something great about last week at Texas, it’s great that we won the race and everything, but I thought we found a lot of speed in our cars,” he continued. “I thought all our cars were really, really fast, from really all of Penske.
“We entered with a different mindset than you normally do, little bit different setup in your cars to see if something works, and we did that, and it seemed to work. So you hope that carries over to other events. Hopefully we found speed last week and we can apply it to the 600 and going forward.”
Blaney has led laps in all but two of the season’s first 13 races. His 371 total laps led rank second in the series and put him on pace for a career-high — by far. His top finishes thus far, all fourth place efforts, came at Daytona International Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, and Martinsville Speedway.
“It’s been a good year,” he said. “I’d like to have obviously won more – and winning a points race and getting locked into the Chase [playoffs] would be really nice. But, second in points, so we’ve been consistent, just gotta break through with a points win. I think we’re close to that, just gotta keep digging.”
This Sunday night’s 400-lap race around the four-turn, 1.5-mile (2.414-kilometer) Charlotte Motor Speedway oval in Concord, North Carolina is the longest race on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule by 100 miles. His top finishes at the track are third place efforts, both in 2020, and one came in the Coca-Cola 600 “endurance race”.
But compared to any other NASCAR race, Blaney doesn’t do much differently in terms of his preparation for the longest night on the calendar.
“As far as my preparation, it’s pretty similar,” he admitted. “I try to treat it like any other weekend. You understand, 600 miles, you kind of understand what you’re getting into. I try not to overthink it that much because it’s just another race, doesn’t matter how long it is. I’m going to prepare the same, do a good job of physically preparing and mentally preparing for races.
“You just understand what this one is, and if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. So I try to keep all that the same because it’s worked out for me so far, kind of staying in it and feeling good throughout the race.”
In his view, the only thing that really changes is the track itself, considering just how long the race is. And this is something that all teams and drivers will need to be focused on in order to have success in the crown jewel event.
“I think the biggest thing that we deal with also is the track changes so much from the start of the race, because it’s so long, to the end of the race, because it cools off a lot,” he explained. “It goes from day to night; you’ll hear people talking about that all the time.
“So I try to keep it the same, but you just understand what you’re getting into, and you’re like, alright, well this is going to be a long one, so let’s dig in here and realize it’s going to be a super long night, but take it one step at a time.”
Blaney has another reason to be exciting for this Sunday night’s race, and that is because of the opportunity he has through longtime partner BODYARMOR to run a brand new paint scheme for their EDGE product on his #12 Ford.
You can’t miss it, especially under the lights.
“It’s been a lot of fun to be able to be with the BODYARMOR folks for a long time,” Blaney said. “It just started off with kind of a personal deal with me, and then they’ve grown as a company and they’ve grown to be on the race car, and we’ve been able to win with them as a primary on the car, which was great, a couple times last year.
“It’s just super cool to be with a company and a team that want to grow and be the best, because that’s what I strive for. We have a lot of the same goals. It’s been a really great honor to be with those folks. They’ve been amazing to me and my family and our race team. It’s been cool for us both to grow together, and hopefully we keep growing for a long time together.”
He is a big fan of the paint scheme he is set to run on Sunday night.
“It looks really great,” he said. “I love bright cars, especially when you get them under the lights in night races. And the 600 starts in the day and it will end at night. It’s super cool and I think they did a great job with designing that car, and they’re really going to make it pop while really showcasing the BODYARMOR Edge product that they have.
“I’m really excited to unveil it and for everyone to see it in person when we get on track Saturday night. The first time they’ll see it, the sun will be going down on Saturday for practice and qualifying, so I can’t wait for that.”
But in his mind, nothing will ever top the Kobe Bryant tribute scheme he ran for BODYARMOR at Auto Club Speedway back in March 2020.
“But man, I don’t know!” he said about where this new BODYARMOR paint scheme ranks among his favorites from the brand. “It’s up there for sure. It’s going to be really hard to beat the Mamba car we did a couple years ago in California. So that will probably always be my favorite car. People really enjoyed that car. Terrible circumstances that we did that car, but I think that will always be my favorite one because of what it meant to everybody and to that tragedy.”
The Coca-Cola 600, the 14th of 36 races on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule, is set to be broadcast live on Fox from Charlotte Motor Speedway beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET this Sunday, May 29. Start a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss any of the action!