Ryan Blaney is 23, has two full seasons in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season under his belt and has driven for two of the most iconic teams in auto racing.
“I never really thought of it,” Blaney said following the end of the 2017 season. “Two of the most historic teams in the sport and I’ve gotten to drive a Cup car for both of them.”
In 2016 and ’17, Blaney drove the No. 21 for Wood Brothers Racing. The car, and the team, have been around nearly as long as the sport itself. Founder Glen Wood raced on the beach in Daytona and competed with the No. 21 in the early 1950s.
Blaney won for the Wood Brothers, scoring team win No. 99 with his victory at Pocono Raceway in June of ’17. It was his first victory in the series and put him in a group that includes NASCAR Hall of Famers David Pearson, Curtis Turner, Cale Yarborough and Dale Jarrett. A.J. Foyt, Neil Bonnett, Donnie Allison, Dan Gurney and Marvin Panch put the familiar No. 21 in the winner’s circle, too. (OK, Gurney’s four wins came in the No. 121 but still …).
In 2014, Blaney made two starts for car owner Roger Penske; For 2018, he will move to Team Penske full-time and drive the No. 12 Ford as that organization expands to three cars – joining 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano.
“I’ve just been fortunate to be with some great teams ever since we got started,” Blaney said. “My dad was a big part of that, getting me in the door of a lot of places. Can’t thank him enough for that.”
Dave Blaney enjoyed a successful open-wheel career, winning a Silver Crown title, World of Outlaws title, Chili Bowl title and Kings Royal crown before moving into NASCAR where he spent more than a dozen years.
Because the Wood Brothers and Penske organizations enjoy an alliance – WBR gets its chassis from Penske, as well as technical data – the move isn’t expected to be particularly disruptive.
“It’s not going to be a huge change in equipment and things like that,” Blaney said. “We got all our cars from Penske and we’re taking a lot of the personnel with us over to the No. 12 car.
“We already work pretty well with Brad and Joey, adding another car. And bringing Paul (Menard) in. I think Paul is going to do a really good job with that group.”
Menard will drive the No. 21 in 2018; the winner of the Brickyard 400 in 2011, he spent the previous seven seasons with Richard Childress Racing.
“It’s bittersweet; I love driving for the Wood Brothers,” Blaney said. “The past three seasons have been a lot of fun, to get to know them and hear their stories. To be able to win for them was really cool, too.
“But, on the other hand, it’s a big deal to be able to drive for Roger Penske on the Cup side. It’s always something I’ve wanted to do too, since I got with him five years ago.”
Penske’s NASCAR association isn’t quite as long as the Wood Brothers, his first entry as a team owner came in 1972, but it’s equally impressive. One hundred and four wins have come with drivers such as Mark Donohue, Bobby Allison and Rusty Wallace, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Keselowski and Logano.
Blaney is eager to get started. No longer a greenhorn, he said his second full year in the series taught him quite a bit.
He finished 12th in the standings in 2016 and wound up ninth this past season, thanks to the win that put him in the Playoffs and the consistency that carried him through to the Round of 8.
“You kind of calm down a little bit, you’re a bit more methodical about things,” he said. “When you’re younger, you’re kind of set on kill the whole time. That’s good but sometimes it’s not the best thing.
“I feel like once you kind of understand the sport a little bit better and how to run 38 weeks out of the year you definitely learn a lot. Just being a little bit more patient and thinking a lot more about actually not going out and driving the car as hard as you can. How can you actually make the car fast without having to drive it 110 percent … that’s the smartest way you can do it.”
It’s just time behind the wheel, he said. Something he’s looking forward to having more of in 2018.