Blaney aiming for a bigger breakthrough
January 15, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
Ryan Blaney isn’t the kind of driver who typically sets goals for himself. But this offseason, on the heels of his first victory at NASCAR’s national level, he sat down with his father and sketched out some objectives for the coming Camping World Truck Series campaign.
“I want to win five to eight races and win the championship,” said Blaney, who turned 19 on New Year’s Eve. “I honestly want the championship to be locked up going into Homestead. That’s the goal I set for myself. I think we have the team to do it, the car, the support. So we’ll see if we can get there. I believe that with the growth myself and the team have had, we can really get there.”
It seems the confidence of Blaney’s team owner, reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, is rubbing off on a driver who last September at Iowa Speedway became the youngest race winner in the Truck circuit’s 18-year history. With good reason, perhaps -- the son of veteran NASCAR driver Dave Blaney was fast almost everywhere he went in 2012, scoring a runner-up finish in a Nationwide race at Texas to go along with his Truck triumph, and showing a level of maturity well beyond his years.
"There’s a lot of good young talent out there today, and we certainly want to support him."
-- Roger Penske, team owner
Now the next step looms, in the form of a full-time Truck Series campaign in the same vehicle he piloted on a limited basis last year -- the No. 29 Ford of Brad Keselowski Racing, backed by sponsor Cooper Standard. There will almost certainly be a slate of Nationwide races as well, with a Penske Racing team for whom Blaney is a developmental driver. Regardless, the secret is out. Blaney’s Iowa breakthrough will reverberate into 2013, in the form of increased expectations on a driver smart enough to realize he’s raised the bar.
“I think it all changes,” he said. “I’ve been in the Truck Series, I’ve had a lot of races there, I’ve had a lot of races in the Nationwide Series. And then you come back kind of in my sophomore year here, and you really have to prove yourself. You have to prove you can keep learning, keep growing, and you’re not a rookie anymore. You’ve got to act like a veteran and try to make smart decisions and show that you can keep doing it. So I think the expectations are definitely raised for your second year coming back.”
Blaney’s No. 29 will be one of two full-time BKR trucks competing in 2013. The team will also field a No. 19 Ford which will vie for the Truck Series owners’ championship, and feature four different drivers in the seat -- Keselowski, his Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano, Ross Chastain and Dave Blaney. Chastain will pilot the truck for 15 events, including the opener at Daytona. The complete race schedules for Keselowski, Logano and Chastain have not yet been determined.
Dave Blaney will drive the No. 19 truck for one race -- the July 24 dirt-track event at Eldora Speedway, where he’s won six World of Outlaws features, twice including the King’s Royal, one of that circuit’s biggest events. The vehicle will feature Chad Kendrick as crew chief and sponsorship from Cequent Consumer Products and Melon 1.
“Last season was a huge stepping stone for the organization as we claimed our first victory,” Keselowski said. “We are looking forward to building on last year’s success this season.”
Ryan Blaney’s goals of five to eight wins and a title -- clinched before the season finale, no less -- would certainly do that. Those are some daring aspirations, particularly given that no Truck Series driver has recorded more than four victories since 2009. Even in a limited role, though, the flashes were clearly there in 2012, when Blaney placed 11th or better in every Truck race where he was running at the finish. He also notched seven top 10s in 13 Nationwide starts, splitting time between Penske Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, a team his father competed for at the Sprint Cup level.
He did it all at an age when many are more concerned about their senior prom. Everyone noticed, the Penske Racing brass included.
“We think that he’s a fine young man,” team owner Roger Penske said late last year. “He’s got a lot to learn, like they all do. But coming from a family that’s been racing, he seems to have the talent. There’s a lot of good young talent out there today, and we certainly want to support him.”
What Blaney is aiming for now, though, is a considerable step up. “It really is,” he conceded. “But honestly, when you set that high of a goal, you always have something you’re chasing for. And you tell your team that goal, and it kind of motivates them even more to work harder and push harder. I definitely think it helps when you set a goal, for the driver and the team, to push themselves that much harder. We’ll try our best to try to get there.”
The presence of Keselowski, whose confidence and go-big-or-go-home mentality fueled his run to the 2012 premier-series crown, certainly can’t hurt. Blaney said he’s learned much about racing from the Sprint Cup champion and he reaches out to Keselowski frequently, especially on event weekends. Blaney may have held back some during last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup -- the boss did have a title on the line, after all -- but not now.
“In the offseason, I’ve been on him hard. I’m just trying to dig information out of him and learn as much as I can,” he said.
“He’s a smart guy and he knows the game and can play it well,” added Blaney, who returns with Doug Randolph as crew chief. “It’s a big advantage for me to be able to know him personally like that, and be able to talk to him anytime I want, and ask him any questions that I’d like.”
That line of communication may prove even more valuable this year, as Blaney makes the transition from part-time racer to full-time championship contender, laden with expectations from his performance a season ago. The breakthrough at Iowa has become as much a part of him as his dark hair, coloring what everyone expects of him going forward. Yet he doesn’t run from it. “I believe last year was a really big defining moment,” he said. But this 19-year-old is also mature enough to realize that any driver is only as good as his last race.
“You never really feel relief when you’re trying to prove yourself as a younger driver. It’s hard to do,” Blaney said. “You have to keep working, keep showing it. I actually don’t think there’s ever relief as a race car driver. You’ve got to keep proving yourself race after race and year and after year. You can never really sit back and give yourself some breathing space. You have to keep after it and keep fighting hard, especially when you’re trying to make it.”