In due time: Ryan Blaney slows clock, savors first Cup title in NASCAR Awards gala

Ryan Blaney at the podium at the Music City Center for his champion's speech during the annual NASCAR Awards.
Chris Graythen
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NASHVILLE — In a sport where moving at a rapid pace is the key to success, newly crowned NASCAR champion Ryan Blaney says he’s spent the last three-plus weeks trying to slow time down.

Savoring every last drip from his first Cup Series championship was an intentional plan for Blaney after the checkered flag fell earlier this month at Phoenix Raceway. That philosophy threaded its way through Champion’s Week activities in the Tennessee capital, culminating with Thursday evening’s NASCAR Awards in the Music City Center.

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NASCAR marked a milestone in time by closing its season-long 75th anniversary celebration, with its annual gala held in Nashville for the fourth time. Blaney made sure to savor every moment that came his way — from the tour of country music landmarks with the Bill France Cup to seeing the excitement of his No. 12 Team Penske crew in the downtown parade to a prime seat of honor at the front of the ballroom.

“You get re-reminded of it, so it’s been fun,” Blaney said. “I’ve been trying to take it all in and trying to slow everything down. That’s what I keep telling people. Even at Phoenix, I was like, ‘We need to slow this stuff down and try to enjoy it and remember it and embrace it.’ We’ll keep trying to do that, but it’s been a blast, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the offseason and what’s to come.”

NASCAR marked the passage of time for its diamond celebration in a town where live music blares out of honky-tonk windows at all hours — early, odd and late. Drivers, teams and industry figures looked the part throughout the three-day festival, crowding the many clubs and venues along Broadway during the week and dressing up for Thursday’s main event. The sanctioning body also left town with a freshly cemented media-rights deal in the books, rallying the industry to set a seven-year course for race broadcasts starting in 2025.

The packed house feted three standouts who reached their own time of transition. Retiring drivers Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick were celebrated with standing ovations for their contributions to a pair of Hall of Fame-caliber careers. Busch became emotional during his time at the lectern, saying, “It’s amazing when you have such a family around you all the time, but yet, you don’t take time to say thank you and reflect on the people that are around you.” NASCAR executive Mike Helton introduced Harvick, who expressed his appreciation after “one heck of a ride” and won a $100 bet with Bubba Wallace that he wouldn’t cry during his speech. Rich Kramer, the longtime Goodyear CEO who has set a retirement date for 2024, was recognized with the prestigious Bill France Award of Excellence, which is not presented annually.

By evening’s end, the time belonged to Blaney, who took the stage for a champion’s speech that he purposely intended to keep short to allow those gathered to get a head-start on more moments out on the town. The list of those he thanked represented a snapshot of those pivotal stages of his career and a gratitude for those who helped him to this point. And his specially tailored coat featured images of his wins in the suit’s lining.

The 29-year-old’s reign is just a handful of weeks old, but team owner Roger Penske said that his stature in the garage will be changed forever as a Cup Series champion as the sport enters its next 75 years. Blaney closed his freewheeling speech by sharing a Team Penske tradition with a remarkable victory toast.

“To us and those like us, cheers,” Blaney said.

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