Editor’s note: Ryan Blaney will be spotlighted in USA Network’s new unscripted series “Race for the Championship” airing this fall. The first episode is Thursday, Sept. 1, at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Watch the trailer here.
Building on a relationship first forged 10 years ago, Team Penske announced Wednesday that it has signed Ryan Blaney to a long-term contract extension, keeping the driver of the No. 12 Ford within the organization well into his next decade with the team.
The Roger Penske-led team did not disclose terms, but indicated that the long-term deal would keep Blaney on its NASCAR Cup Series roster “well into the future.”
“It’s really nice to get something done. Me and [Roger Penske] got talking this year that it’s hard to believe that I signed with them in summer or fall of 2012,” Blaney told NASCAR.com. “So it’s been 10 years, which is pretty unreal, blew my mind to be honest with you. So they’ve been just amazing to me.”
Blaney included a long list of thank-yous, from Penske himself, to executive vice president Walt Czarnecki, team president Tim Cindric and VP of operations Michael Nelson, among others. The 28-year-old driver also singled out Brad Keselowski, his eventual Cup Series teammate who provided him with his first full-time national series ride in the Camping World Truck Series in 2013.
“It just really means a lot that they’ve believed in me for 10 years and looking forward to continue that hopefully for a really, really long time,” Blaney said. “So they’ve been a family of mine, and I owe them a lot, that’s for sure.”
Blaney’s last contract extension with the organization was announced in March 2020. He struck his first deal with the team — reached in July 2012 — in almost a different era in retrospect. Blaney was then an 18-year-old prospect, the team was in its last season with Dodge before a switch to Ford, and its NASCAR operations were still called Penske Racing. (Penske’s stock-car and IndyCar groups merged under the unified Team Penske name in 2014.)
That first developmental deal with Penske set an initial course for part-time duty in the Xfinity Series, where Blaney first wowed the NASCAR garage with a seventh-place finish at Richmond in his series debut with Tommy Baldwin Racing. Since then, he’s won seven Cup Series races for Team Penske and the affiliated Wood Brothers Racing team and has been a playoff contender for five seasons running.
“To be just, on one hand, noticed by a big team like Penske, and having me out there and meeting with Brad, meeting with Tim Cindric and everybody, it really meant a lot to me,” Blaney said, recalling his move to the organization as his father, Dave, was wrapping up his Cup Series career with the Baldwin team. “I grew up around racing, just watching Dad do it, and, you know, he never really got a shot like that with a big team. I mean, he was able to drive for RCR and Bill Davis, which were amazing teams, but not like, you know, a Penske or a Hendrick or a Gibbs. Dad never really got that shot, so it made me appreciate it even more, in that aspect of like, ‘Man, I’m really getting a great chance here, something that that Dad, you know, never got the opportunity to do.’ So just really thankful to be able to be a part of such a big group and then to be able to stick with them for so long and for us to extend it, definitely means a lot.
“So I never would have thought, when we pieced together a car to go run Richmond in 2012 that I would be here, let alone be driving for Penske. So just when you look back and put it in perspective, it’s a lot of people to thank because it never would have happened without a lot of people involved.”
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The people, Blaney says, are what made him singularly focused on re-signing. His first Cup Series win came with the family-run Wood Brothers group in 2017. He transitioned to the No. 12 team the following year, when Team Penske expanded to a three-car operation.
Though he’s now with the larger Mooresville, North Carolina-based operation, Blaney says the fit still has a close-knit feel. Though Penske and Ford have provided him with seemingly boundless resources, Blaney laughed at the thought of imposing upon those who he considers his extended family.
“They’ve been amazing to me, and I’m almost sometimes just nervous to ask them for stuff because they already do so much,” Blaney says. “They’re always talking like, ‘you could ask for anything you want. If you need something changed or need something at all just ask us,’ but that always just makes me nervous because they’ve done so much for me, I’ve always kind of been sometimes quiet on that deal.
“But the people make you feel at home and make you feel welcome, and to know that they look up to you so much to perform well for them, it gives me extra motivation to want to do well for those guys and girls who are working at the race shop and maybe don’t even get a chance to go to the track. People that have never been to the track, who are engineers that are solely based at the shop, they even make you feel like home as well and you try to give it back to them. So I mean, that’s been the biggest thing to me is they’ve treated me great. And I couldn’t picture myself being anywhere else where they would treat me as good as the Penske and Wood Brothers folks have over the years.”
With his long-term future secured, the short-term goal of reaching the Cup Series Playoffs for the sixth straight year remains on his to-do list. Blaney ranks provisionally as the last driver in the field of 16, holding a 26-point edge over Martin Truex Jr. for the final spot with two regular-season races remaining.
With 15 winners already through 24 races this year, the playoff picture is an already crowded place. The series heads to Watkins Glen’s road course this weekend for Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen (3 p.m. ET, USA, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM) before locking in the playoff grid in the regular-season finale at Daytona, where Blaney is the defending race winner.
“If we couldn’t win Richmond, it was good to extend on Martin given their track record at that place,” says Blaney, who added seven points to his playoff cushion over Truex. “I was good to come out of there, and you’re leading by more over those guys, so that was a good job by everyone to go and accomplish that goal. I mean, honestly the next two weeks, you just continue to try to do the same thing as we’ve done all year. You try to win every week. There’s no bigger emphasis on winning now as compared to in the spring. It’s just, you try to do it every week, you just try to keep replicating it, and you just see where things shake out.
“I mean, if there’s a new winner this weekend, then we know our job going into Daytona. And if we’re the bubble car into Daytona, then you know your job of trying to win the race, trying to do your best to stay up there and just contend for a win and hope that a new winner doesn’t emerge and you’re punched out. So at the same time, you still have to be aware that you’re still racing the 19 (Truex) for trying to have a points cushion, especially going into Daytona. So, yeah, just trying to win, trying to build the point gap and just doing what we can. I try not to get too fixated or distracted from what other teams are doing, even though you’re noticing what the 19 group does and other groups, but I think the best thing you can do is just focus on yourself, because you’re not going to change other people’s outcomes, you can only control your own.”